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PDF to become an open, ISO standard


Adobe Systems Inc. on Jan. 29 announced that it has released the full PDF (Portable Document Format) 1.7 specification to AIIM, the Association for Information and Image Management. AIIM, in turn, will start working on making PDF an ISO standard.

In this release, Adobe is opening up the full PDF 1.7 specification as defined in Adobe’s PDF Reference Manual. According to Sarah Rosenbaum, Adobe’s director of product management, this is the next logical step for Adobe with its PDF formats. In the 14 years since Adobe published the complete PDF specification in 1993, PDF has become a de facto global standard for secure and dependable information exchange and archival storage.

Since 1995, Adobe has participated in various working groups that develop technical specifications for publication by ISO, and worked within the ISO process to deliver specialized subsets of PDF as standards for specific industries and functions. Through these efforts, PDF/Archive (PDF/A) and PDF/Exchange (PDF/X) have already become ISO standards, and PDF for Engineering (PDF/E) and PDF for Universal Access (PDF/UA) are well on their ways to becoming ISO standards.

Additionally, PDF for Healthcare (PDF/H) is an AIIM proposed Best Practice Guide. AIIM already serves as the administrator for PDF/A, PDF/E, PDF/UA and PDF/H.

One reason Adobe is releasing the full PDF 1.7 specification at this time is that so many industry-specific versions of PDF already were ISO standards, Rosenbaum explained. “We see a lot of standards based on PDF format that are specific to industries or archiving. That’s great, but for customers want to do documents in PDF, submitting the entire specification will make it easier for them,” she said.

From here, a joint committee formed under AIIM will identify issues to be addressed, as well as proposed solutions with the proposed standard. This committee will then develop a draft document that will be presented to a Joint Working Group of ISO for development and approval as an international standard.

By opening up PDF in this manner, Adobe’s customers will be more easily able to use PDFs in all their document management programs. Additionally, this move will also “provide an umbrella for the current alphabet soup of Adobe PDF standards,” Rosenbaum added. Another factor in Adobe’s decision was that with the rise of ODF (open document format), “there’s a stronger market trend towards standardizing on open standards … umbrella.”

However, this move by Adobe does not, Rosenbaum asserted, have anything to do with Microsoft’s PDF competitor: the Metro format, aka XPS (XML Paper Specification) print path.

XPS, which is now available in Vista, at one time was described as a “PDF killer.” In Vista, XPS appears as a printer named “XPS Document Writer.” If a user prints to this “printer” from an application, the resulting file will be an XPS Document. XPS is also supported in Office 2007.

Kevin Lynch, Adobe’s chief software architect and senior vice president of company’s platform business unit, stated: “Today’s announcement is the next logical step in the evolution of PDF from de facto standard to a formal, de jure standard. By releasing the full PDF specification for ISO standardization, we are reinforcing our commitment to openness. As governments and organizations increasingly request open formats, maintenance of the PDF specification by an external and participatory organization will help continue to drive innovation and expand the rich PDF ecosystem that has evolved over the past 15 years.”

Interestingly, this announcement by Adobe comes just one day prior to the Jan. 30 public release of both Vista and Office 2007 by Microsoft.

A version of this story appeared in DesktopLinux.

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