If PDF did not exist, it would have to be invented
PDF stands for “Portable Document Format”. The key word is portable, intended to combine the qualities of authenticity, reliability and ease of use together into a single packaged concept.
Adobe Systems invented PDF technology in the early 1990s to smooth the process of moving text and graphics from publishers to printing-presses. PDF turned out to be the very essence of paper, brought to life in a computer. In creating PDF, Adobe had almost unwittingly invented nothing less than a bridge between the paper and computer worlds. Adobe’s business — and yours — would never be the same again.
To be truly portable, an authentic electronic document would have to appear exactly the same way on any computer at any time, at no cost to the user. It will deliver the exact same results in print or on-screen with near-total reliability.
You use word-processor, spreadsheet or presentation files everyday. But do you also email, post to a website and file using these formats? You could use PDF. What’s the difference?
The difference between PDF and formats used for writing (Word, Excel, Power Point, Quark, HTML, etc) is both subtle and profound. Properly made, PDF files are not subject to the vagaries of other formats. PDFs are not readily editable – and editing may be explicitly prohibited. A precise snapshot, a PDF file is created at a specific date and time, and in a specific way. You can trust a PDF like you can trust a fax. You can’t say that about a Word file!
PDF is Electronic Paper
What are the important qualities of paper? Paper is authentic, reliable and easy to use. Most of the world still trusts paper as “hardcopy” to convey ownership, seal a deal, retain proof of delivery, and so on.
PDF is designed and intended to fulfill the role of paper within the computer… to be the electronic equivalent of paper.
|Paper is authentic because attempts to edit a document printed on paper tend to be obvious.
|PDF is authentic because it exactly reflects the intent and execution of it’s creator – and can be made to stay that way.
|Paper is reliable because it is utterly consistent – a static object that may be lost, damaged or destroyed, but otherwise looks the same each time it is read.
|PDF is reliable because it looks exactly the same on all computers, and delivers identical results on all printers. PDF files created to PDF/A standards may be expected to be useable indefinitely.
|Paper is easy to use because it is has a fairly large and durable capacity for storage of information (for a non-electronic object), and possesses physical properties that make writing, printing, packaging, transporting, and reading paper easy.
|PDF is easy to use because PDF files are small and self-contained, because Reader is ubiquitous and free, because Reader delivers consistent operation on almost every type of computer, and because even minimally computer-literate users require almost no training to use Reader.
PDF yesterday, today and tomorrow
The ubiquity of PDF might tempt us to take it for granted. It is nonetheless instructive to recall that it all began with a single, seemingly basic functional requirement — uncomplicated, flawless printing of an authentic original document.
Adobe’s decade-old invention to save time at the printing-press has spawned the first plausible alternative to the physical document since the invention of the printing-press.
by Duff Johnson