FlashPaper could outperform PDF

Adobe's PDF is a great tool but, as I argued in one of my columns some years ago, it is frequently used quite unnecessarily by lazy marketing and sales people. These folks refuse to understand that document layout fidelity is only important when it is relevant - that one-page sales brochure dumped into PDF should not be the only format for what is essentially generic information.

But I digress: Whether or not your company understands the issue, you'll probably have a need (real or not) for being able to present documents on the Web in high fidelity.

While Adobe's Reader is a market leader there is another document rendering platform that is reputedly available to 87% to 98% of Internet users (it depends on whose figures you believe) - Macromedia's FlashPaper.

FlashPaper, based on Macromedia's Flash Player 6 and available in Macromedia Contribute 2, works with any printable document such as AutoCAD files, Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Project and even Adobe PDF documents, and will reproduce a faithful image under Web browsers on Window, Macintosh and Linux desktops as well as some PDAs and mobile phones.

You create FlashPaper documents by printing to the FlashPaper driver under Windows 2000 and Windows XP. FlashPaper documents are displayed within Web pages with an elegant and easy-to-use user interface that allows zooming, scrolling and printing. The result is an accurate representation of the original document that opens with remarkable speed when viewed on the Web. The speed comes from FlashPaper's compression - usually to around 50% of the original document's size (although some reviewers have reported that some PowerPoint files may actually increase in size).

Unlike PDF documents you can't e-mail FlashPaper files - they can only be viewed in a Web page. Nor can you search the text in FlashPaper documents. Also, there's no support for digital signatures, annotations, or many of the other enterprise features that you'll find under PDF. But the performance advantage and potential reach due to the Flash installed base provides a powerful advantage.

FlashPaper could have a promising future but that won't be realized until the product is unbundled from Contribute. That is not because Contribute is expensive ($100) but because I bet users would be reluctant to buy the whole product just for the FlashPaper component.

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