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What’s Wrong with my HTML5 Document Viewer?

by | Dec 5, 2012

It seems like everywhere you look (at least in our industry), people are promoting document and video viewing using HTML5 technology present in the latest browsers.  It’s a great idea but there’s a catch.

By cleverly taking advantage of the image handling support of the latest browsers, you can create a viewer that works in these browsers without plug-ins or other installed parts.   You can draw lines, circles and other elements to surround the document or image you want to display.  Additional commands allow you to zoom or rotate the image as well.

For companies that want to disseminate their special documents to a wide user base with varied computing platforms and technologies, this is a great solution. As long as there’s an HTML5 browser available to your ultimate user (this is the catch!), they can view the documents they need without any special application or app installation.  The customer support nightmare of worrying about what version of Windows or Mac a user might have or whether Java or other libraries are installed on that system goes away.

So why doesn’t every company do this?

Well, more and more companies are doing this.  They’re either buying this technology from companies like Snowbound or others that are newer to the game.  Some choose to write these viewers themselves. But beware. Getting these viewers to look right, have important capabilities like annotation and markup, and offer thumbnails or split views takes a lot of development and testing.  And the viewer doesn’t operate on its own – it requires a sophisticated server component to preprocess the document (e.g. convert PDF files to PNG) or to create thumbnails from a document resident on the server.

And one more thing to note – some of the features your users may want can’t be done in HTML5 and will require Javascript coding or something else.

Takeaway – this is a great technology but like all good things, it takes effort, skill and time to get it right.

Is there a Gotcha?  What About Older Browsers?

Did you notice I used the term “latest browser” in the first paragraph above?  Why did I qualify my statement – doesn’t everyone use the latest browsers?   After all, they’re free.

Well, it isn’t true that everyone uses the latest browsers. Many large companies who are still using Windows XP utilize Internet Explorer 7 or 8 …. or even IE 6. Those older browsers support HTML4 and don’t include the special capabilities defined in HTML5!  The number of systems with older browsers are counted in the millions – and most of those are in industry.

So here I have this wonderful HTML5 technology but thousands if not millions of my users can’t work with it.  Is there a solution………?

Well, there is. All the above functions can be implemented using HTML4 and JavaScript. It’s not easy, it isn’t quick to develop, and there are variations between the various browsers, but with effort, skill and time, it can be done.  Then you can have one installation free, application free, document viewer that works on any browserfor any document.

For an example, go to