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You are here: Home Bulletins 2010 Fall 2010 Bulletin PDF Readers

PDF Readers

by Matt Lee Contributions Published on Oct 07, 2011 04:47 PM
Later in Gothenburg, I met with Sam Tuke, an intern at our sister organization, Free Software Foundation Europe, which, like the FSF, works to promote free software in Europe, but has also made inroads into legislation for European citizens and their rights. Sam is working on a campaign to promote free software PDF readers for all computer users.

ML: Sam, what is and why is it important?

ST: URL:{} is a campaign by the Free Software Foundation Europe to increase public use and awareness of free software for reading PDF documents. It originated at the FSFE Berlin Fellowship group, and was created by Hannes Hauswedell and Jan-Hendrik Peters. The website currently lists eleven PDF readers, and recommends several choices to visitors depending on their operating system. It also provides information about different versions of the PDF standard, and offers for download a variety of buttons, including ones which can replace commonly found ``Get Adobe Reader'' advertisements.

This work is important because it provides a dedicated resource for free software PDF readers which is both clear and easy to use. A few proprietary software companies have succeeded in dominating the market of PDF readers, despite the fact that there are many free implementations and PDF is an open standard. Many people, and even government institutions, are unaware of free solutions to using PDF documents. Our site is highly ranked on search engines, and this makes it easier for people to choose free software over proprietary software when considering how to open their PDF documents.

ML: Most GNU/Linux users will likely already have a free PDF reader installed, but has their been any communication with GNU PDF, to increase awareness for this high-priority project?

ST: Yes. GNU PDF have been involved since the beginning of the campaign, and we are regularly in communication with Jose E. Marchesi, who is the project's maintainer and lead developer. Last year Jose worked with our team members at an FSFE-hosted workshop at the Free Society conference in Sweden. Our site also asks visitors to join the GNU PDF development team, and explains that the project is creating a high-quality, complete, and portable set of libraries. We would like to find more ways of supporting GNU PDF's important work however.

ML: What can the international free software community do to increase awareness of this issue in their local communities?

ST: PDF provides a great opportunity for raising awareness of free software because it is very widely used, and there are many high- quality Free Software applications to choose from. One of the most effective ways of getting people talking about PDF readers is to draw attention to government behaviour and policy at either a local or national level. Most public institutions use PDF documents for communicating information to citizens, and many of them make misleading statements (often unintentionally) about PDF software, or advertise one particular proprietary application.

FSFE asked free software advocates to report information about government websites which were hosting such adverts, and sign a petition calling for an end to these practices. We received details of more than 2,000 website adverts, and more than 1,500 petition signatures, which included explicit support from major political parties, and a variety of software companies. The campaign was covered by multiple international news agencies. Several of the adverts have already been removed, and many of the institutions involved now have a better understanding of free software.

One of the reasons that the campaign was so successful was that giving exclusive endorsement to one software product, such as a particular proprietary PDF reader, clearly affects the market unfairly. Governments are usually prevented from advocating particular products to citizens, and for good reason. They seem to forget this when it comes to PDF applications, however. Drawing the public's attention to this fact provides an opportunity for free software advocates to talk about Free alternatives within their community, and also about PDF as an open standard. We've found this a very effective way of generating interest and raising awareness.

Anybody can write to a company or government who endorses proprietary software, and ask them to stop. Entering into a dialogue like this often allows you to explain why free software is important, and what alternatives are available.

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