FSFE calls on governments to stop pushing Adobe Reader
Free software and open standards advocates are encouraging web users to put pressure on governments not to 'advertise' proprietary Adobe software as a tool for reading documents created in PDF format.
Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) is asking users to conduct a month-long 'hunt' for examples of what it says is the promotion of proprietary PDF readers.
PDF, or Portable Document Format, is an open standard developed by Adobe in 1993. It is widely used for transferring documents in a way that will preserve the designer's formatting choices, unlike HTML. Adobe distributes the most popular PDF reader, Adobe Reader, free of charge. But FSFE points out that there are other, non-proprietary PDF readers that are also free of charge.
FSFE said that web users should put pressure on governments and public bodies to promote the use of free PDF readers as well as or instead of proprietary software.
"The Free Software Foundation Europe calls on all Europeans to seek out advertisements for proprietary PDF readers on their government's websites, and report them," said a FSFE statement. "In addition, FSFE has prepared a petition demanding an end to such advertising practices, and encourages the public to sign it."
"Every time that state websites link to non-free applications and encourage visitors to use them, they needlessly encourage citizens to throw away their freedom", said Karsten Gerloff, president of FSFE.
"As websites such as pdfreaders.org demonstrate, Free Software PDF readers exist for all major operating systems," said the FSFE statement. "Fellows of FSFE launched the project in 2009 in response to public bodies' habit of advertising a particular non-free product on their sites."
The FSFE did not refer to Adobe in its statement but its site contains examples of other sites that link to a non-free product, and in each case the product listed is Adobe's.
"What would you think about a sign on the highway saying 'You need a Volkswagen to drive on this road. Contact your Volkswagen dealer for a gratis test drive'?" said FSFE fellowship coordinator Matthias Kirschner. "When it comes to PDF readers, governments seem to think that this is acceptable."
FSFE's 'hunt' runs from 13 September until 17 October, it said. The campaign also includes a petition, which the group encourages web users to sign.
"Such advertising breaches impartiality and encourages citizens to employ technologies that unnecessarily restrict their freedom," said the petition. "The role of government is not to support certain market participants and not others, particularly when doing so works to maintain the monopolies of global software companies.
"In explanations of how to use digital resources that they provide, government agencies should clarify that multiple methods are available, and favour technologies which do not restrict users' digital rights; by linking to PDFreaders.org, for example," it said.
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Dangers of monoculture
Many people are completely unaware that PDF is an open format. They think it's a proprietary format and that they must use the Adobe tools to open it. I have even seen Mac users install adobe reader, despite the fact that OSX includes a far better PDF reader by default...
Because adobe reader has such a large install base, it becomes a very attractive target for malware and this malware often gets inappropriately blamed on the PDF format itself.
Now that the browser market has more competition, exploits targeting web browsers are far less common... If you target a single browser, you can maybe hit 50% of targets these days, if you target adobe reader you can hit 95% of targets instead.
Introducing more diversity into the PDF reader market is good for everyone (except malware distributors).
Not to mention the security risks
I can't recall a week in recent months where Adobe Acrobat has not been in the tech news for a zero day vulnerability, in fact I read an article just a couple of weeks ago which stated Acrobat is currently leading this year on the most security vulnerabilities if I remember correctly.
I wish they wouldn't use bloody PDFs at all
My local council started offering news by e-mail in various selectable categories, which I thought would be very useful (though not quite as good as an RSS feed) until I found out that the e-mails are just links to PDFs on the Web. I am not their marketing dept and don't need a precise layout for printing. This is a pain with the extra clicks and means I can't read it as part of my offline mail.