With the upgrade to D6.5, many of our clients are reconsidering their annotation choices. This blog post will address some of the annotation product choices based on our experience, as well as our internal development efforts on our Free Viewer Tool that is based on a thin client with Adobe Flex and support for viewing and basic annotation capabilities.
Definition –this entry is referring to “annotation” as a mark-up “layer” on top of the document. Redline changes (like Word track changes) are embedded in the Word file and is not the focus of this entry.
Thick Client or Thin Client
One of the first decision points when choosing an annotation tool is between a thick or thin client. Early annotation tools required a client side component for client/server capabilities. With browser-based annotation tools, annotations might rely on either a client side plug in or an applet. For Documentum, client components are required for Brava (applet), Annodocs and Documentum Annotation Services (Adobe Acrobat). Snowbound offers versions that don’t require a client component or have an applet based approach. Our Free Viewer only requires Adobe Flash to be installed on the client. With a thin client approach, the image (not the entire file) is sent to the client. This could be a substantial performance improvement when viewing large files. Also, thin client approach provides for additional security since the file is never passed to the client.
TSG Thoughts – We are usually recommending the thin client to improve performance and security while reducing IT support costs particularly when extending the application to outside third parties.
Native Document Annotations or PDF-only
One approach would be to allow the mark-up layer to view on top of any type of file format. Snowbound and Brava both support this type of annotation. Another approach would be to turn everything into PDF and only allow mark-ups on top of the PDF. This approach is required by Adobe and Annodocs although supported by Brava and Snowbound as well.
TSG Thoughts – Many of our clients have had difficulty with the native document approach not due to fault of the vendor but due to the constantly evolving and backward compatible native file formats. For our free viewer, we are only supporting PDF or TIFF.
With all annotation tools, the amount of graphic options (circle, arrow, highlight, underscore….) can confuse the user and blur the line between annotations and redlines. Also, one major user complaint is that annotations can be buried on subsequent pages and users will have to flip to them to find them. Annotation tools should highlight/bookmark annotations when viewing the document to avoid having the user flip through every page looking for annotations.
TSG Thoughts – We lean toward simple annotations for basic markup to reduce training costs and markup/review time.
It is important to understand that every annotation tool typically stores it’s annotations in a proprietary format making it difficult to change annotation tools. When changing annotation tools, the existing annotations must be deleted or reformatted.
TSG Thoughts – For our Free Viewer, we have targeted Adobe’s new XFDF for mark-up to be compatible with Adobe as well as Documentum Annotation Services.