PDF is one of the most common file-formats on the planet. Why is it so pervasive? Why is it PDF that serves mankind as the undisputed universal electronic equivalent of paper, and not some other technology?
A large part of the answer lies in the fact that PDF is extraordinarily sophisticated; clever and robust enough to accommodate the wide range of purposes confronting any electronic replacement for paper. You’ll find PDFs everywhere – from Navy ships to clinical trials to printing presses to corporate and government websites. The breadth and depth of features in PDF is a testimony to one of the most horizontal of end-user technologies.
Who can imagine the modern digitized world without some sort of electronic paper technology? The name of that technology is ISO 32000, but you probably just call it “PDF”.
As the fourth day of the Ottawa conference opens, I marvel at the scope of issues before these Standards Committees – the people who manage the PDF format and its subsets.
The number varies, but there are perhaps 50 people world-wide who spent a lot of time thinking about the guts of PDF, and where it should go from here. For our second in-person conference of 2010, many of them flew (or drove!) to Ottawa, Ontario to talk about PDF Standards. Delegates at this particular meeting are a typical cross-section, representing Belgium, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Japan and the United States.
The week started with PDF/A, the archive subset of PDF. The ISO 19005 Committee went ahead with ratification of part 2, encompassing a number of changes. In particular, the new PDF/A is based on the 2008 International Standard for PDF, ISO 32000, rather than the older Adobe Systems PDF Reference. While ISO 19005-2 does not replace 19005-1, the new part of PDF/A simply defines the requirements for archiving PDF features added since 2001.
After PDF/A came PDF/E, otherwise known as ISO 24517, a document created to meet the specific electronic document needs of aerospace, civil and mechanical engineering organizations.
The PDF/E Committee’s next task is to provide an archival solution for engineering documents so that after 20, 50 or 100 (or more) years, the 3D models engineers increasingly prefer to paper remain available and useful. One of the Committee’s conclusions; we need more engineers to help us understand engineering archive needs (if you’re interested in helping, let me know!).
The next standard up for discussion: PDF/UA, for “Universal Accessibility”. The objective is to provide normative definitions of accessibility in PDF content, as well as normative expectations for PDF readers and assistive technology software. While the most obvious beneficiaries of PDF/UA are blind and other disabled users who require assistive technology in order to read, conformance with the Standard will provide benefits for all types of repurposing, from copying and pasting text to search engine optimization (SEO).
Last, but by no means least, the ISO PDF Conference tackles the mothership of PDF Standards: ISO 32000. This 900 page (or so) document is the key to it all, it’s the full description of PDF itself.
On Thursday, we reviewed over 33 pages of detailed comments on the current draft of ISO 32000-2, including over 60 technical edits. The subjects ranged as far and wide as PDF itself, from digital signatures to fonts, from transparencies to semantics.
Friday will be more philosophical; the discussion will cover conforming readers, validation, subset standards and more.
Quite apart from serving the companies who send us to develop and maintain these standards, I think we like to feel that we’re also providing a genuine public service.
Hopefully, every time you choose or use PDF, you’ll think so too.
And if not, we want to know about it!
by Duff Johnson