PDF Standards....transitioning the PDF specification from a de facto standard to a de jure standard
PDF (Portable Document Format) gives us the confidence to know that a
document will look how it’s supposed to look when it is opened. PDF files
consist of a subset of the PostScript page description programming language,
which defines the layout and graphics used in the file, includes a font
embedding system that enables the fonts to be included in the file, and a
structure storage system that combines all the elements into a single file while
compressing it for easy transport.
In the March/April issue, we explored innovation with respect to standards.
PDF is another example of true innovation at work. When we see the PDF file
extension, our first instinct tells us that the document is generated by software
from Adobe Systems. While Adobe Systems may have a large portion of the market
in this area, they are not the only software provider for PDF solutions. It seems
incredible, but there are close to 600 PDF developers with products that allow users
to, among other actions, create, display, search, and watermark electronic
PDF documents. These products are based on the PDF Reference, a specification
that defines the file format, tags, and structure for files created as PDF.
The PDF Reference enables developers of file creation tools and display software
as well as other PDF add-ons to ensure reliable, consistent viewing and printing of
electronic documents created as a PDF document. It also allows text, raster images,
line art, and color to be used in the document. PDF is used to enable the exchange
of electronic documents. It compresses the file, creating smaller file sizes
to further enable the exchange process.
Today, anyone can create a PDF application that reads and writes PDF files
without having to pay royalties to Adobe Systems. This factor will not change with
the introduction of the PDF Reference to ISO. It is true that Adobe owns patents
in connection with PDF, but they license the use of them royalty free for use in
developing software that complies with the PDF Reference. The standards process
honors patents as long as they are declared and users can use the resulting
standard royalty free.
In the 1990s, PostScript page description language was introduced to produce
printed pages and was widely adopted by many. PDF is an innovation from the
PostScript file format that provides interactive navigation and structure to enable
electronic documents to be viewed and printed virtually anywhere. In 1993, version
1.0 of the PDF Reference was published by Adobe Systems. Since the introduction
of the first version of the PDF Reference, subsequent versions have added features
and functionality to the file format to enable encryption, transitions, color,
improvements to the hyperlinks included in documents, actions, compression
improvements, annotations, additional fonts to accommodate non-English
and many other features.
Turning PDF into a Standard
Earlier this year, Adobe Systems announced its intent to release the full Portable
Document Format (PDF) 1.7 specification to AIIM for the purpose of publication by
the International Organization for Standards (ISO). AIIM represents ANSI (American
National Standards Institute) at the ISO level. Since 1995, Adobe has participated
in numerous working groups that develop technical specifications published by ISO.
These ISO PDF standards are specialized subsets of the PDF file format for
specific industries and functions. Currently, PDF/Archive (PDF/A) ISO 19005
and PDF/Exchange (PDF/X) ISO 15930 are ISO standards. PDF/Engineering
(PDF/E) ISO 24517 is in the final process of becoming an ISO standard. PDF/Universal
Access (PDF/UA) is in the drafting stage and may become an ISO standard
as well (the outcome of the standard will be determined once the drafting work
has been completed). For the healthcare industry, a joint committee formed between
AIIM and ASTM is developing a PDF/Healthcare Best Practice Guide to describe how PDF
should be used with healthcare records. AIIM is the administrator for PDF/A, PDF/E,
PDF/UA, and PDF Healthcare.
In transitioning the PDF Specification from a de facto standard to a de jure
standard, it is hoped that this will drive broader adoption of PDF, accelerate
the development of PDF-related products, and ensure that PDF will continue
to meet the ever-changing needs of business. In anticipation of the PDF
Reference project, ISO has set aside ISO 32000 as the number to be assigned
to this standard.
The process for moving the specification to an ISO standard may involve
the participation of many of you. Prior to starting the process, the specification
needs to be reformatted into a standard format for ISO standards. While this may
seem like an easy process, it is not and requires great attention to detail to
ensure that the appropriate standards verbs of “shall” and “should” are being
used in the standard to clearly identify the requirements and recommendations
that the software developers must follow to ensure that their product is producing
files that will display as anticipated and be able to be read by any PDF-compliant
viewer. It also requires that the format adhere to ISO rules to ensure readability.
This resulting draft, in ISO format, will be an exact replica of the currently available
PDF Reference 1.7. The draft document will be shared with the ISO Technical Committee (TC)
171, Document Management Applications where the PDF/Archive and PDF/Engineering standards
were published. A joint working group will be formed under TC 171 SC (Sub-Committee) 2 to
work on the approval of the PDF specification and
future revisions of the standard. It is anticipated that the first ISO PDF standard
will be the PDF Reference 1.7 without any changes or enhancements to the requirements
specified. After the publication of this version, the joint working group
formed to work on this standard will begin looking at enhancements to the current
features and look at introducing new features to the file format. It is anticipated
that ANSI will submit the draft PDF Reference 1.7 to the TC 171 SC2 Secretariat,
AIIM, in mid-June 2007.
The draft will be balloted to the subcommittee for approval to begin the work of publishing
the standard. While this ballot is taking place, an invitation will be distributed to
appropriate ISO technical committees and others to participate in
the development of this standard. These participants will form the international
joint working group for the PDF Reference work. At this time, we anticipate an
initial International meeting of this joint working group to take place in January
2008 in Orlando, Florida. Prior to the International meeting, a U.S. committee
will be formed to address the work associated with the PDF Reference project
from a U.S. perspective. This committee will be the group to represent the U.S.
market at the International meetings.
We plan to hold the first U.S. committee meeting in July in the Washington,
D.C. area followed by a second meeting in November in San Jose, California.
Other countries who are members of the ISO TC 171 SC2 committee will also be
forming committees to work on the project and represent their national viewpoints.
PDF and You
So, what part can you play in the development of the PDF Reference as an
ISO standard? The first version of this document as an ISO standard will exactly
replicate the PDF Reference Version 1.7, which means additional features and
enhancements will not be added to this document. However, subsequent releases
of the document will include new features and enhancements. This is where
you can help. If you have ever wanted your PDF document to do something that
it does not do today, you should become involved in this work to help create that
capability, feature, or function. The work we will be doing is not just for the techies;
we need PDF users to tell us what and how they use the file format and what
they would like to do.
If you are interested in participating in this work,
please contact Betsy Fanning
. This project will require travel to meetings both here in the
United States as well as internationally and participation on conference calls.
If you intend to participate on this project, please understand that you do so
at your own or your company’s expense as AIIM does not reimburse for any
expenses related to participating in the standards work.