Friday, May 14, 2010

Goodbye PostScript

I was uploading a new PDF file up to my publications page and noticed that the paper also had a PostScript link but I didn't have an updated postscript file. So I asked myself (and my Twitter readers) if anyone still uses PostScript. Apparently not so I converted my old PS files (including my thesis) to PDF and removed all the PostScript links from my page. I left the old files in place in case others link to them but I won't maintain or update them. No more PostScript for me.

In college I was one of the early people to typeset a paper on a computer using a program called Script (no relation to PostScript). In grad school I shortly used troff before turning to LaTeX for my technical papers. LaTeX produced dvi (device independent) files which could then be converted to PostScript which was the language used by many printers. PostScript was also in ASCII meaning we could then (around 1989) easily email papers, marking a major change in research distribution. When I started a web page a few years later, I put up PostScript files of my papers (marking another major change in distribution). 

In 1993, Adobe created the PDF format though for a while it was hard to convert LaTeX into good looking PDFs. But when I could I would put up both the PS and PDF files on my page. Now we have direct LaTeX to PDF compilers and PDF readers abound for all devices, so it's time to say goodbye to the PostScript era. Just not worth the effort to maintain two formats.

On a different note, as I was doing the conversion I tried to find the online version of my recent STACS paper on the Springer LNCS site. Couldn't find it because in 2008 STACS moved the proceedings to the Dagstuhl server. First time for me to have a conference proceedings paper on an open-access online-only archive site. Another era begins.


  1. As an uncompressed ASCII format, postscript is inherently somewhat inefficient but the real decline of postscript began with an early money-grab by Adobe that you don't mention.

    Anyone could muck around with Postscript source but Adobe had patented a chip for printers to convert the commands to print. Then they charged between $200 and $300 a chip which meant that no low-cost printer could support postscript. We still have the residual effect that relatively few printers can print postscript directly.

    With PDF, Adobe changed its business model from controlling printing to controlling creation and especially editing of PDF content. PDF files can be printed with free reader programs but Adobe has made every effort to control the direct editing of PDF files.

    Both Postscript and PDF (as well as tex/latex) are complete programming languages. Acrobat Reader has had some major flaws and security has not been a strong point. Recently I have been hearing that PDF-based malware is one the fastest growing ways in which exploits are being produced.

  2. "Couldn't find it because in 2008 STACS moved the proceedings to the Dagstuhl server. First time for me to have a conference proceedings paper on an open-access online-only archive site."

    A nice example for "big brothers" -- FOCS/STOC/CCC/etc. Proceedings are for being read, not for making money. The same for journals. Right yesterday completed a questionary about "open access journals" ... for Springer! DFG (a German analogon of NSF) even *recomends* to prefer open journals against paid ones. Very slowly, but another era seems to begin.

    In LaTeX era, publishers just earn money from readers for the job done by authors. They know this and are trying to change the money source with their "open access idea": now the author makes all the job (except that of referee's) *and* pays for his/her paper to be published! Even stranger than before ... I think this will even quicker turn many authors to really open journals, like Theory of Computing. And new era will come.

  3. > Now we have direct LaTeX to PDF compilers

    I still don't know how to make pdflatex output a pdf with the right page size. Does anyone know? pdflatex seems to ignore the a4paper and letterpaper parameters.

  4. Actually postscript is still used in the backbone of the Unix printing system and in higher-end office printers, so people will be using it for a while even without "using" it.

    I have started to go pdf very recently, but I decided to take the "lazy" route: New files are in pdf, and old files will stay postscript until I get a request for a pdf. I will never put links for both formats (that would ruin the "the title is the link" paradigm that I like in the general web) but will keep an old file hanging around even if its link is replaced.

  5. On a related note: I wish more authors would put up the Latex-Source along with a pdf.
    Editing a pdf file is, sadly, no easy task, and I often wish I could remove the huge borders in most papers for easier reading on a E-Book-Reader.


  7. I am wondering why more conferences are not moving to using Dagstuhl's distribution services for their conference proceedings. LNCS used to be some kind of stamp of approval, but several people I spoke to seemed to think that is no longer true and LNCS folks are happy to pretty much take any conference who will publish in their series.


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  9. "I still don't know how to make pdflatex output a pdf with the right page size. Does anyone know?"

    The package geometry.sty is what you want ... see the documentation ... pretty much all the page size and margin parameters are fully adjustable.

    \RequirePackage[paperheight = 8.50in, paperwidth = 11.00in]{geometry}

  10. "Both Postscript and PDF (as well as tex/latex) are complete programming languages."

    No, PDF is in no way Turing complete (but TeX and PostScript are). The specifications have been freely available for years:

    PS. PDF malware exploit both the scripting capabilities provided by Adobe extensions to PDF and bugs in Adobe classical reader product.

  11. Dear Lance, the PDF versions of your papers originally in PS format are very hard to read on screen--the fonts look washed out. This is probably because you've used Adobe Distiller for the conversion.

    Thanks for keeping the PS versions in your directory. I just downloaded one, did a "print to PDF" from ghostview, and got a much better looking PDF that I can read without killing trees.