Adobe to Release PDF as Open Standard

Adobe Corporation announced today that it plans to release the full 1.7 version of its Portable Document Format (PDF) specification to AIIM, the Enterprise Content Management Association, with the intent to see it published as a standard by the internation Organization for Standardization (ISO).

Adobe initially published PDF in 1993, and since then the format has become a de-facto standard for application- and operating system-independent exchange of digital documents which retain many of the qualities of their print counterparts. Over the years, PDF has evolved to include more-sophisticated typographical capabilities, security, and functionality, and has been used extensively as a storage format for electronic records used in business and government.

“Today’s announcement is the next logical step in the evolution of PDF from de facto standard to a formal, de jure standard,” said Kevin Lynch, senior VP and chief software architect at Adobe. “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.”

Adobe’s statement—which, of course, is available in PDF format—outlines the standardization process: Adobe will release the full PDF 1.7 specification to AIIM for the purpose of submitting it to the ISO: AIIM will form a joint committee to identify any issues with the format specificaton and develop a draft document with proposed solutions. The drat will then be submitted to the Joint Working Group of ISO for development and approval as an international standard.

Adobe’s decision to submit the PDF format as a standard is no-doubt influenced by Microsoft’s XPS—XML Paper Specification—which Adobe brought to the attention of EU regulators after the Redmond software giant announced plans to support its own so-called “PDF Killer” within Windows Vista and Microsoft Office 2007. Adobe argued “free” XPS capabilities in Vista and Office would undercut Adobe’s PDF market; Microsoft countered by offering royalty-free licenses to anyone who wanted to use XPS, then went a step further, announcing in late 2006 it intended to release XPS as an open standard, although details of that plan remain murky—and, as we all know, Vista and Office 2007 have since hit the street.

The process of approving PDF as an international standard will take a while, depending on the nature of any issues identified by AIIM. If things go smoothly, final approval by the ISO could come in as little as a year.

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