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Tales of Customer Service in the PDF World

Not long ago, the good people at our print-on-demand service QOOP alerted me that the PDF of "Take Control of Mac OS X Backups" I had given to them was corrupted. Confused, I traced back through the various versions of the file that were created during my workflow, and discovered that the problem occurred with specific graphics when I ran the files through Apago's PDF Enhancer Professional Edition.

Now, PDF Enhancer is a powerful high-end PDF manipulation tool on which I rely heavily for Take Control, and particularly for our print-on-demand versions. For normal Take Control PDFs, I use PDF Enhancer largely to reduce file size by eliminating unnecessary PDF features, deleting duplicate graphics, and downsampling large images. For the print-on-demand PDFs, though, I use some of PDF Enhancer's more-advanced features, namely those that resize pages to 7 by 9 inches and convert colors to grayscale for the black-and-white option (converting the PDF results in slightly better quality over doing the conversion in the printer). And of course, because I have to do the same conversions for each book, PDF Enhancer's drag-and-drop interface is a boon.

I was distressed to find that PDF Enhancer was itself the problem, so I filed a bug report with Dwight Kelly of Apago, including the original file and the corrupt version so he could see what was going on. After a few messages back and forth to establish things I'd forgotten to include in my bug report, Dwight announced that he'd figured out the problem - PDF Enhancer was trying to remove identical duplicate ICC profiles but linking them incorrectly - and he sent me a version of my file for me to verify. A day or two later, he sent me a new version of PDF Enhancer that did indeed solve the problem entirely.

What struck me most was how long it has been since I've experienced this situation personally with a program on which I rely. I talk with lots of developers and report a fair number of bugs, but it's uncommon for a developer to convert my feedback into a new version within a week. In at least the haze of my memory, I remember such things happening more frequently 10 or 15 years ago. That's not to say developers today aren't responsive, but it's now more likely that a developer will confirm my bug report and months later mention that it was fixed in the most recent release.

Contrast this situation with a bug I discovered in another high-end PDF manipulation tool, Aerialist Professional from ARTS PDF. One problem we run into is that we want all our links to inherit the current magnification level when clicked - that is, if you're reading in Adobe Reader (Preview ignores zoom levels) and you've zoomed in to make the type easier to read, clicking a link shouldn't change your magnification level. Acrobat Pro's linking tools are awful, so if we make links in the PDF manually, it's entirely possible they'll end up with the wrong magnification level. Among other features (I bought it for its automatic index linking capability), Aerialist Professional includes a feature to set options like magnification level for all the links in a document. Sounds great, but if you use it, and your recipient is viewing pages in continuous mode (versus page-by-page) in Adobe Reader or Preview, all links jump to the page after the one they're supposed to hit. Oops.

ARTS PDF's support was reasonable and responsive, and tried to help me work around the problem. But instead of fixing the bug and sending me a new version of the program, I got this message: "I've managed to replicate the issue as you described so this will be lodged as a bug with development and scheduled with the next release." That was the middle of December 2007, and for a plug-in that even then worked only with Acrobat Pro 7 on the Mac, not the then-current Acrobat Pro 8, and I've heard nothing about support for the now-current Acrobat Pro 9. I've simply had to avoid the link features of Aerialist Professional for the last 10 months, and I don't hold out significant hope for a new release any time soon.

I fear that there is no moral to this story, just an appreciation that Apago was able to provide exemplary customer service and a sadness that I can't use highly desirable features in ARTS PDF's Aerialist Professional. Perhaps the PDF Enhancer bug was easily fixed; perhaps the fact that it corrupted files made it a priority; perhaps the developer had some free time at the point I reported it; or perhaps I received special treatment as a member of the press. Whatever the reason, it certainly wasn't true of the Aerialist Professional bug. Kudos to Apago, and while I certainly understand that near-instant turnaround on bug fixes can never be a guarantee for anyone, any developer who does put in that level of effort deserves major credit.


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