Collaborating in geospatial context since 2000!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Collaboration with Adobe Acrobat and Reader with PDF Naughty Bits

In an earlier post, I discussed some aspects of Adobe's collaboration infrastructure built on top of Acrobat and Reader. It's probably worth talking about some of the details of how this works without the GeoPDF geoconflation. I try to think about how things work, so I'll describe things from that perspective. Let's start with the PDF file.

A PDF file has provisions to store, among other things, two aspects of an electronic document: document content and document structure. For its paper analog, content would be what's printed on the pages and structure would be the order of the pages. Being electronic (why does "electronic" sound dated? maybe "digital" would be better...), PDF can accommodate more bells and whistles than can be placed in a paper book or letter or map or memorandum or summons or fatwa or proclamation or manifesto or whatever: things like interactive bookmarks, hyperlinks, and metadata. In addition to content and structure, PDF has a provision to store annotations. PDF annotations are analogous to sticky notes: they stick on top of the content at a particular location, but are not part of the content. Although perhaps not as ubiquitous as sticky notes, the PDF analog is much more flexible. PDF provides for a variety of annotations, including geometries like polylines and polygons, stamps, clouds, callouts, measurments, interactive 3D, videos, etc. Annotations are not content. They are, in the internals of the PDF file entirely distinct. Addition, removal, and modification of annotations don't modify the PDF content, just as putting a sticky note on that TPS report doesn't change its contents. Yeeeaaahhhh.....
A PDF annotation
FIG: An Adobe PDF Annotation in Action.

Most annotations can be placed on PDF files out of the box by Adobe Acrobat. Some annotations, like 3D annotations, have to be placed with Acrobat Pro or Pro Extended. Adobe Reader usually cannot modify a PDF file. That's why they call it Reader, and not Modifier, Manipulator, Monkeyer, Munger, or Acrobat. However, Adobe hides little permission bits inside the PDF file that when flipped enable hidden markup tools in Reader and grant permission to use them. In business speak, this is one ways how Adobe "monetizes" Reader. There are two ways to flip those bits: Adobe Acrobat Pro or LiveCycle. The Acrobat method is intended for small work groups and LiveCycle is intended for enterprise work flows.

So, if you want you or someone you love to mark up a PDF file in Adobe Reader, you'll need to have that file enabled for comments by Adobe software. If you don't want to hassle with comment enabling, use Acrobat. Those are the options.

Toolbar is hosted by Acrobat and Reader and plays by the rules dictated by its host environment. If you can't use Adobe's markup tools, you won't be able to use TerraGo's. But that's not the whole story... ready for some geoconflation? Good!

Just as Adobe uses comment enabling to monetize their free Reader, TerraGo uses GeoMark enabling to monetize its free toolbar. Current Publisher and Composer products GeoMark enable by default, but that's only enough to grant TerraGo permssions -- Adobe permissions are required, too. TerraGo Composer can GeoMark enable other geospatial PDF files, such as those created by ESRI ArcMap, Bentley Microstation, and Safe FME.

One thing that's important to note is that this has nothing whatsoever to do with formats, encodings, and openness of standards. TerraGo GeoPDF files are just as open and standards conformant as any other. Just as whether you can markup a PDF file in Reader has nothing to do with the openness of ISO 32000, whether you can access functionality in Toolbar has nothing to do with the openness of the OGC best practice or Adobe's proposed geospatial extensions. Toolbar understands both and Publisher and Composer encode both. Toolbar functionality is tied to permission, not format.


Blogger Mitrich said...

Excellent article. I have found in it answers to my questions and doubts. As ArcGIS user me likes possibility to organise the closed cycle for work out of office on the basis of TerraGo products. But necessity to by Adobe Acrobat prejudice expediency of such technology. Except additional expenses, time is lost also. For example, if it is necessary to leave office quickly on inspection, except export of a map from ArkGiS additional work in the Acrobat is required. I have not found possibility to switch on an option of commenting from a command line. (acrobat.exe /EnableOptionOn myMap.pdf
Another problem, how output many pages(like mapbook) of the map programmatically. Is there API for TerraGo PDF output? And in addition is it possible to customize toolbar in AdobeReader?

I have a the question to you how to the expert. Whether there is a future at the given product and whether is sense to offer it for adoption? Whether there are alternative decisions, for example on the basis of OpenSource or other vendor?

Thank you, Dmitry.

2:12 AM EDT

Blogger George Demmy said...

Hi Dmitry,

Thanks for your comments and questions. Your questions are post-worthy indeed. I'll answer them briefly, then do some deep dives when I get some more time.

Automatic Comment Enabling
There is no way of automatically or batch comment enabling PDF files with Acrobat from the command-line or the GUI that I know of that is compatible with the Acrobat EULA. It's a pain, but Adobe wants to make money if people use Adobe tools to make money themselves. I am sympathetic to this position! One way of eliminating the hassle is to deploy Acrobat to the field. That's what we did for the project I talked about in this recent post, actually. Another is to go with a LiveCycle solution.

Programmatic Output from Publisher for ArcGIS
There are map book creation tools for ArcGIS, like ArcMapbook you might try.

Publisher for ArcGIS API
Publisher for ArcGIS is implemented as a set of ArcObjects, just like ArcGIS itself. These interfaces are available to the ArcObjects programmer. Publisher for ArcGIS can be embedded into any ArcGIS application I can think of.

Toolbar Customization
We do have some provision for the customization of the Toolbar. Of course, the display coordinate systems and units are all customizable, and the GeoTool can have GeoJavaScript actions added to it by third-party developers.

Future for the Product
I sure hope there is future for the product! If all our products did was embed georegistration metadata into PDF files, I'd say that would have little future, sure. However, they do much more than that. I'm confident that using PDF as a foundation for delivering applications that have geospatial intelligence seamlessly integrated has a very bright future, indeed!

Open Source and Alternatives
GeoPDF is built upon published standards and practices. Anyone is free to make applications that consume and produce geospatial PDF files, and I'd encourage everyone wants to to do so. See, e.g., here and here and here and here (some bum links in the posts themselves after a revamp of TerraGo website, but I'm trying to get those restored). It's the nature of the business to have competition. If we can continue to deliver solutions that help people do things more easily, efficiently, seamlessly, and cheaply, then I'd hope that the other things would sort themselves out.



8:48 AM EDT

Blogger Mitrich said...

Hi, George!
If this detailed reply you call briefly... I am waiting article for Britannica.
Certainly, if Adobe want to make money it is good! But having bought their product I do not wish to earn money pressing on mouse button. I wish to write the program for enabling commenting and start it directly from ArcGIS.
I often use DS MapBook, and would like to add in it export in GeoPDF. Where is it possible to find the description of object model of Publisher for ArcGIS and an example of usage of interfaces?

I have tested Toolbar and have received the unreadable comments made in Russian for the line (red popup) .
unreadable comments

Besides, maybe it will be useful, small bug.
If in the project there are broken layers, there is a following message at export.
Export Error

Best regards,

2:20 PM EDT

Blogger George Demmy said...

Hi Dmitry,

Thanks for the report on the issues you're having with Russian in the user interface and with the commenting infrastructure. We are working on internationalization presently, and I hope that we will be able to address the issues you have seen.

There should be nothing special you need to do to use our product with DS MapBook, although I will confess that we have seen issues with large volumes of GeoPDF files created from very complex data sets. Our exporter is an extension of the ArcObject exporter interface, so is programmatically usable as any other.

Our interfaces are documented in a developers guide that ships with the product. It's bundled with the help files, e.g., C:\Program Files\TerraGo Technologies\Map2PDF for ArcGIS\Publisher_for_ArcGIS.chm.

Hope this helps, and thanks again,


7:05 PM EDT

Blogger Mitrich said...

Hi, George!
Thank you for your care to me.
I am sorry for a part of my previous questions. From my attention has escaped that you have built in the export in GeoPDF, as standard exporter. Also I have found references on COM classes interfaces and usage examples.

In addition, there can be a last question, whether there is an interest in your company to advance the given technology in territory of the former USSR, for a Russian-speaking audience?
With whom it is better to communicate on this matter?


4:47 AM EDT

Blogger George Demmy said...

Hi Dmitry,

I am glad you found the information that you needed, and thanks again for all the feedback. While we are currently primarily focused on domestic, English-speaking, and EU markets, we are engaged in an internationalization effort with a business partner with interest in markets outside of these. The horizon for Russia/FSU is out there a bit, however. If you have a specific and nearer term opportunity in mind, email me at with the general idea and we can go from there.

Kindest regards,


7:53 AM EDT


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