Academic Technology @ Palomar College

Mac OS X PDF Problem in Blackboard

Yesterday I posted on a few of the problems we have seen with the latest version of Blackboard at our college.  All considered, they are pretty minor and there are workarounds for all of them.  (Though I might have added the nagging problem of the mobile web service daily failure, but that should be fixed soon).  There is one, however, that has a fix for right now, but it is not the kind of fix we like all that much.

I am referring to the problem that Mac OS X  10.6+ users have viewing PDF documents in Firefox and Safari browsers.  Chrome users do not see this problem.  It is a little more complicated than this, because these users CAN see PDFs if they are added as attachments to items, but can’t if they are uploaded to Blackboard as files.

To recap, here is what I posted yesterday:

Users of Mac OS X 10.6 and above cannot view PDF documents that have been uploaded as a File in the Safari and Firefox browsers for Mac.  They can view them in the Chrome browser for Mac.  If the documents are uploaded as attachments to an item they can be viewed in any browser.

We had been told by Blackboard that the fix for this (other than to use Chrome) is to download a third-party plugin called Schubert|it. (What the piping symbol (|) in their name indicates, I must confess, eludes me.  Perhaps they are borrowing some of the glory from Wolfram|Alph).

Today Blackboard even blogged about this workaround:

Bb Tweet Graphic

In order to test the plugin, I downloaded and installed it on my Mac OS X 10.7 system.  I can report that it does work, and works well.  It makes you jump through a couple of confusing licensing hoops–it is free for non-comercial, personal use for educational purposes–but after you choose the personal use license it does not nag again, at least, within my limited experience.  I like it’s features.

But wait a minute.  Why is it necessary to download a third-party, non-Blackboard plugin to see the most basic kind of document using the two most popular browsers on the Mac platform?  What does this say about Blackboard testing?  Could it possibly be true that Blackboard did not test PDF documents uploaded as files in Firefox and Safari before releasing version 9.1 SP6?  If not, much is explained, but speaks poorly of Blackboard’s per-release testing.  If so, why wasn’t the problem fixed in SP6?  What could be more elementary than testing a PDF in a browser.  Even if somehow the error is more obscure than it seems to be, and was not know until after SP6 release, why not release a hot fix rather than foist a third party solution on Mac users?  The more plugins, the more chance that something will go wrong in other contexts, and it is already far too complicated a browser world.

I hope there are good answers to these questions, but I suspect we won’t hear them.  This is a little disturbing, but at least for now par for the course.

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