Supporting more PDF forms in Free Software products (Re: Going beyond advocacy)

Bernhard E. Reiter bernhard at
Thu Feb 13 08:58:23 UTC 2020


to focus on the PDF form handling:

Am Freitag 31 Januar 2020 17:29:18 schrieb Paul Boddie:
> Having been sent a PDF form that needed completing, I rediscovered the
> apparent lack of support in Free Software applications for performing this
> task.

> I ended up with the feeling that it would not be possible to perform
> an important task using Free Software. 
> No amount of advocacy would remedy this situation. 

An example to the contrary:
The tax authority of the German state "Lower Saxony" (almost 8 Million 
inhabitants) is using GNU/Linux desktops in about 12,000 workplaces.
Now the current government coalition plans to switch to Windows, this is 
political and can be influenced by advocay. As documented on our public 
German speaking FSFE list, it is unclear how this change came to be, probably 
advocay from the different direction, see the threat (in German):
This public tax authority contracted my company Intevation a few years ago 
to improve form handling in a few aspects in okular (and the libraries it is 
using), which we did.
The connection is: If they were planning to use okular even longer, they would 
contract more improvements to PDF handling. They don't because of the 
political process of being forced to go to Windows.

Am Dienstag 11 Februar 2020 23:22:59 schrieb Paul Boddie:
>  For all I know, my experience was based on a misunderstanding

PDF is not a good format, in my view. There are several different ways of 
handling form elements and the ability to embed some active javascript 
elements is not a good choice for an open standard for simple forms.
PDF also does not adhere to the "minimal principle" 

So "misunderstandings" are likely, computer usage is complicated and just 
getting to understand what would be a good next step for which user group 
requires a lot of effort to begin with.

It is hard work to "track" what the proprietary developers of the PDF format 
do and it needs people that do this for years, which means they need to be 
financed. We at Intevation were toying with how this can be done a few time, 
but haven't found something promissing yet.
Maybe a crowd-funding for some features? But the work can probably not be 
estimated well enough. A pay-as-you-want windows build of okular? Maybe, but 
it needs serious time invest and expertise.

The problem is: Getting somewhere with better form handling in PDF, we are not 
looking at a 20 k€ project, but it would need years with funding around 200 
k€ per year or more to get somewhere.

Best Regards,
Disclaimer: As co-owner of Intevation I have a "commercial" interest to help 
making more Free Software (that is the only software we make) and earn a 
living and pay my employees as fair as I can. (It should be obvious from this 
post, but just in case. ;) )

FSFE -- Founding Member     Support our work for Free Software: | contribute
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