The Free Software Foundation Europe just launched pdfreaders.org, a site designed to be an alternative link for places where people have to offer “Download a PDF reader here”. However, compared to the competition, the usability of the site is not very good. So much so that I would be very concerned about linking to pdfreaders.org from a site on which I was providing PDFs, because I would be concerned that users would not be able to get what they need.
A quick list of flaws:
- “Vendor neutrality” has trumped usability – it offers a choice of 4 (Windows), 2 (Mac OS X) or 5 (Free OSes) readers rather than the best one for each OS. This is probably the primary foot-shooting move – it will bewilder anyone trying to use the site.
- They don’t detect the OS the user is running and highlight choices for that OS.
- Some software is marked “additional software may be required to use this program”. What does that mean? Either it is or it isn’t, and if it is, what is it and where do I get it?
- There are paragraphs of text to read before you get to the download links.
- At least one of the Windows downloads leads to an FTP site with a ZIP file. What are the chances of an average user correctly installing that software? Even with a proper Firefox installer we lose almost half of downloaders along the way.
- They forgot to register the obvious typo “pdfreader.org” and it’s now been grabbed by a squatter.
This is a mock-up of what the page should look like for a Windows user who speaks English. (Both the OS and the language should be detected server-side, although there are links on the page to override the choice.) Note that graphic design is not my forte. Page features:
- All of the possible free software PDF readers for each OS have been evaluated and the one with the best combination of easy installability, compatibility and usability has been recommended.
- The link would be direct to the download, not to the project website.
- For free OSes, it would detect the OS and say “you probably already have a PDF reader but, if not, here is how to install some using your package manager”, then give instructions.
- Rather than trying to force people to read all the freedom stuff before you tell them about the download, it lets them start the download, then give them the freedom stuff to read while they are waiting. So it does not, in my view, compromise the core message of the importance of freedom.
- The language has been simplified and dejargonized.