Wednesday, December 14, 2011

PDF resurrected

This blog is devoted to open access. Please subscribe. To the concept of open access to scientific information, that is.

Not for the sake of open access in itself. No l'art pour l'art. But for the sake of enabling scientists to make use of any information that is relevant to their research in any way that makes sense for them. In that spirit, please allow me to divert to writing about something that is not open access as such, but does help scientists to get to and use available knowledge more efficiently and conveniently.

Much – actually, the overwhelming majority – of the scientific literature is made available in the form of PDFs. There are good reasons for that. Easily downloaded, easily stored on your hard disk, easily printed nicely, integrity guaranteed to a satisfactory degree ('version of record'), et cetera. But in a web-connected world, having static, 'dead' documents like PDFs also has major drawbacks. Many scientists would like to look 'beyond the PDF'. Me, too. I am on record to have used the awkward verb 'depedefy' and making the case that that is just what should be done. No longer.

What has changed? Well, Utopia Documents. It is a scientific PDF-reader that connects the articles you have in PDF format to the web. Any PDF document that's not just a bitmap (image). The published articles, manuscripts written in MS Word that you have saved on your laptop or deposited in repositories as PDFs, even whole books. When you have Utopia Documents installed (it's free, and available for Mac, Windows and Linux from, the advantages of PDFs remain, and the disadvantages begin to melt away.

The current version of Utopia Documents is optimised for the life sciences – molecular biology, biochemistry, preclinical medicine, and the like. But this is clearly only the beginning. New functionalities and links to resources are continually being added and upgrades will be released regularly. Progress keeps being made in the foreseeable future and beyond, but that's no real reason to wait with using the PDF-reader, of course.

Conflict of interest: no conflict, actually, just interest. I'm a fan. I will do what I can to advocate Utopia Documents because I think it is a wonderful tool for scientists, potentially making their lives easier and their research more effective. And I and my colleagues will assist those who developed it and are continually improving it, with ensuring its sustainability.

Please help. The only things you have to do is to download the software, start using it, and tell your friends and colleagues about Utopia Documents.

Jan Velterop

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