PDF Standards

PDF Standards....transitioning the PDF specification from a de facto standard to a de jure standard
Betsy Fanning

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 languages, JavaScript, digital signatures, XML metadata, tagged PDF for accessibility, 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.

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