Monday, January 29, 2007

PDF to become an open, ISO standard

PDF and Adobe, its maker, are victims of their own success. Really.

The Portable Document Format (that is what PDF means) has been free for use for ages and anyone was allowed to write software using it, as long as they adhered to the standard set by Adobe. For a long time, only niche products did this and Adobe continued to make a bundle from sales of their own software which generated and manipulated PDFs.

Then Open Office included a simplified, one button feature to save a document as a .PDF, and all of a sudden, everyone was doing it. Everyone being Microsoft, principally, who put it into Office 2007 betas. Adobe protested, but MS was playing exactly by the rules Adobe had set and Adobe ended up looking cheap and mean. So, they have done what they probably ought to have done a long time ago; released the specification to become a standard. PDF is a de-facto standard, anyway, more widely used than anyone would have imagined until the last couple years, when it really took off.

The smart bet will be that the ISO will approve .PDF as a standard relatively quickly. Adobe has had all the footwork done and the specification laid out in great and usable detail for years, so the process will be smooth. We all benefit, though Adobe will see real competition for their Acrobat software, which is extremely large (bloated) expensive and hard to use.

They might even be forced to cut the price.


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