As with all things
related to computers and the Internet, there are trade-offs and
compromises for whatever method of delivery you choose.
Generally, a standard web page is more expensive. The
contents must be edited for packaging within HTML, the standard
language of the Internet. Properly prepared, a
downloadable file requires no additional processing for online
Choosing the right delivery method
A web site is essentially a presentation of your contents.
Web pages are constructed to display your information in a
user's browser. Depending on the nature of the
information, this can require a lot of work by a skilled
resources for an effective site, it pays to realize that not
everything requires an online display. Sometimes, your
purpose is better served by an alternate form of online
delivery, one that doesn't need the extra layers of work
required to create web pages.
information prepared and distributed as a downloadable file is
both more efficient and more economical.
When to choose downloadable...
The key to choosing
whether to utilize downloadable files lies in the distinction
between presentation and distribution.
If you want the
information to be displayed on the site, available to anyone
with a browser and Internet connection, you need a web page to
present it. The cost of the page (or pages) is a function
of how much preparation is required to present the materials
with a suitable degree of style to maintain consistency with the
rest of your site.
If your goal is
simple distribution, downloadable files can be a better choice.
This is particularly true when distributing materials with
extensive formatting requirements, such as legal forms, employee
manuals, and similar items. Where extensive work has
already been performed to prepare such materials for printed
distribution, the case for making them downloadable is even
Made available as a
downloadable file, the information arrives on your user's
desktop exactly as created, with no intervening translation
effects involved in web page packaging.
Know the limitations...
There are some major
issues to be considered in creating files for downloadable
delivery. The chief problem with the method is additional
requirements for the user.
A properly designed
web page will be available to anyone with an Internet connection
and supported browser. Downloadable files require
additional software on a user's computer. It is essential
to understand the implications of this fact.
The primary problem,
of course, is that not everyone has, or knows how to use, the
same software. If you create a document file in MS Word,
for example, someone who has only WordPerfect may not be able to
read it. Although most modern packages include format
translation features, the translation is often somewhat less
The more a document
relies upon advanced features of the program used to create it,
the less likely it will translate to another program's format.
It is therefore essential to consider the intended audience- the
more varied your users, the more generic or "universal" your
downloadable files must be.
Good news, bad news...
Fortunately, there are
relatively easy ways of dealing with the format issue. The
preferred method is to create your downloadable files in a
special format known as PDF, for Portable Document File.
These are properly known as Acrobat files, developed by Adobe
The Acrobat Reader,
which enables users to view and print files in this format, is
preinstalled on many personal computers, and available as a free
download from Adobe. Acrobat is particularly useful where
absolute fidelity to the original is required. PDF
packaging preserves typefaces, margins, illustrations, form
spacing, and so on.
It is a very popular
format, used to deliver legal forms, software manuals, product
catalogs, and many other types of content. It is as close
to "standard" as is currently available.
Later versions of
WordPerfect, Omniform Pro, Corel Draw, and some other packages
allow saving or export to this format, but to fully utilize the
advantages of Acrobat, you need the full version of the program
(please see links at the end of this article).
Users of Microsoft
Office components Word or Excel have another option. Like
Adobe, Microsoft provides free downloads of "reader" software
that allows a user to view and print documents created in these
formats. As with web pages, it is important to restrict
your use of fonts to standard ones like Ariel and Times Roman.
Others may not be available on a user's system, which could
wreak havoc with page layout and readability.
Know your audience...
skills and knowledge vary widely. Unless the required
software is present and configured on a user's machine, it will
be necessary to download and install the appropriate reader
New or unskilled
users may find the process intimidating, and users on networked
or public systems may not be permitted to install the reader
software. The result is that your content, if delivered in
this form, may be inaccessible for some of your site's visitors.
As a site
administrator, you must decide whether the limitations of
downloadable information files are too restrictive for the
intended users of your site. Bear in mind, however, that
not all content is intended for all users. You can make
more demands of your employees, for example, than you'd want to
impose on customers.
If you are providing
technical support for your site's users, another wrinkle
appears. When reader software is installed, there are
sometimes multiple configuration options. Support
personnel must be familiar with the various behaviors the
software may exhibit.
Consider your contents...
Prime candidates for
downloadable information files are those with a specific
audience. Job applications, for example, translate from
print to PDF almost perfectly, and it's entirely reasonable to
require an applicant to acquire and use the Adobe Reader.
intended primarily for employees, like manuals or benefits
descriptions, can be distributed this way, in whatever format
will be most convenient for the greatest number.
On the other hand,
materials intended for general access by the widest audience
should be done in standard HTML, adjusted for browser
Between the two
extremes of what might be required are many compromises.
Any modern word processor, for example, can read a format known
as RTF (Rich Text Format). This works fine for materials
with minimal requirements, but is not always suitable for
tabular content (rows and columns). Older or simpler
programs can't handle tables, some deal with tabs in different
ways, and others have been known to delete multiple space
characters. These limitations make RTF a poor choice for
forms or other items where spacing and page layout are
For specifically targeted
audiences, Word or Excel files are easily read and printed by
the appropriate reader software, but remember to avoid advanced
features like collapsible outlines, macro's, and hidden
For the most
reliable delivery of downloadable information files, we
recommend Adobe Acrobat's PDF format. Although
alternatives exist for producing files in this format, you will
achieve the most benefit and flexibility from the Acrobat
downloadable files a web site option, be sure to specify which
software is required, and include links to the appropriate
reader software if available.
Find out more about Adobe Acrobat...
Read user reviews...
Purchase it here...