image You already know how I feel about PDF, which can be pretty slow going on, say, PDAs. But we’re pretty ecumenical around here. So let me point PDF-lovers to Google Docs as both a Web-based reader and a online library for their fave e-books from sites such as PDF Planet. You can pick up files from your desktop machine or a PDF’s Web address; what’s more, GD is well-integrated with Gmail. Click on the screenshot for a better view.

Now here’s more on the PDF angle. Gizmos Grabowski says the Google Docs actually is faster on the GG system than Acrobat. Regardless, when I tried a Wowio PDF of Kurt Vonnegut‘s Breakfast of Champions, my OLPC XO-1 laptop was pokey, and I was less than thrilled by the speed on my desktop. I’d welcome others’ impressions. Please note that Google Docs will work only with nonencrypted PDFs, but, as most TeleBlog community members know, GD also handles such popular formats as Microsoft Word and PowerPoint.

Web-based PDF alternative

Meanwhile, speaking of PDFs and alternatives, you might check out Exact Editions, which puts images on the Web that you can view with any browser—no PDF reader required. You can sample travel guides and Debrett’s Peerage & Baronetage, among other possibilities. You can find out more here. "It’s remarkable that there has been very little effort to build a platform that parallels the functionality of Google Book Search, but can in some respects improve on its implementation," says Exact Editions’ Adam Hodgkin. What do you think? Give EE a try and share your thoughts.


  1. I wanted to mention something about this. Apparently, the Google Docs upload strips some drm off of the pdf. Nothing heavy mind you, but it did take off some restrictions of some of my titles. Generally, I find it neat to place my digital library online so I can access it wherever I am.

  2. Re: Google Docs being faster than Acrobat (or other PDF viewers). This is somewhat misleading. Google, Scribd, etc. convert the PDF file to another format (Google to images, and Scribd to flash paper-style) and then they display it. You’re not actually viewing the PDF as such and with each format change you lose the ability to do certain things. So, for example, with Google Docs, there’s no way you’re going to be able to select text from the pages you view from a PDF file.

    I share your dislike of dealing with web-based PDF files with a browser. I reckon it’s come from two long-term problems.

    1. Years ago PDF viewers were completely unreliable and caused us all a lot of pain (though they’ve got much more reliable these days).

    2. Most people don’t understand why *some* web-based PDF files take forever to open. It’s because they haven’t been ‘linearized’ or made ‘web ready’. If they have, then a PDF can be downloaded one page at a time, and you can in theory start viewing its contents almost immediately (at least the moment your default PDF viewer has opened). So, in one way, it’s partly the fault of people not preparing their PDF files rather than the format itself.

    We have a pretty handy free Firefox add-on called PDF Download that is designed especially for people who don’t like to deal with PDF files on the web. You can configure it so that whenever you click on a PDF it just converts it straight to an HTML page. You can get it here:

  3. I just wanted to mention that I was wrong about Google Docs not letting you select and copy text from the ‘PDFs’ you can view in Google Docs. It turns out you can. It’s a good simple implementation.

    The main limitation is it inserts breaks at the end of each line, which makes repurposing the text a little more cumbersome. Most decent native PDF viewers copy text out as complete paragraphs.

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