PDF - Not dead yet!

By Betsy Fanning, CIP posted 05-17-2012 16:27


I read a blog post several weeks or so ago touting that PDF should die and die fairly soon. This blog post stirred a bit of angst amongst many PDF product developers and individuals who devote time to develop standards to in fact make PDF more open and a better file format. As I read the post and the many comments that were offered, I remembered a phrase from Monty Python, not that I am a Monty Python fan, that goes something like "I'm not dead yet, in fact, I am feeling much better!" I think this phrase summarizes very well the state of PDF.

Let me first state, that PDF is not the ONLY file format available and won't be the ONLY file format that should be used for archiving, turning a revisable electronic documents into a ePaper documents or for exchanging documents. For now, it is available, accepted and is very robust. This robust nature was what prompted NPES and the Graphics Communications Industry along with Adobe Systems to develop what was the first of several specific focused PDF standards to satisfy the needs of prepress printing of advertisements (ISO 15930). From here, we developed variations for archiving (ISO 19005), engineering (ISO 24517), healthcare, universal accessibility (ISO 14289), variable data exchange (ISO 16612) and others. Each of these PDF subset standards was developed to satisfy a specific industry need.

The fact that many variations of the PDF standard were developed all based on the PDF Specification shows the versatility of the PDF specification. It is important to remember that even the PDF specification is now an open standard no longer controlled solely by Adobe Systems.  In 2007, Adobe Systems approached AIIM ( ) requesting that AIIM help foster the PDF Specification through the ISO standardization process. On behalf of ANSI, the American National Standards Institute (, AIIM did just that and ISO was able to publish the PDF specification as ISO 32000-1 in 2008. Yes, Adobe Systems is a player in the development of ISO 32000 and its subsequent versions but there are a host of other PDF developers at the table including Microsoft who along with NetCentric Technologies are the current project leaders for the work on ISO 32000-2.

The work on the PDF standards marches onward. With each part of the standard, the file format becomes even more feature rich and better. The ISO working groups will be meeting next week in Canada to focus their attention on the PDF standards as well as on other topics such as trusted repositories, quality issues, document management vocabulary and many other topics.

We should remember that PDF is here and available now.  Until an alternate file format is available, let's work together to make this one better. If there are problems with PDF or if there is something you wish PDF did that it does not do today, send your ideas to me at or post your ideas as comments to this blog post. I will take them forward to the appropriate PDF committee.

When an alternate file format becomes available, make sure you are making an intelligent decision as you decide to adopt it. Some of the factors you should consider when deciding to go to another file format are:

  • Maturity of definition – Is it based on a beta or draft standard or is it based upon a published standard?
  • Adoption – Have the solution providers developed products that support the standard? How many solutions support the standard? How many files have been created using the standard file format?
  • Endurance – How long has the standard been available? Are there any implementations of the standard?
  • Product standards vs infrastructure standards based – Is the standard developed for a limited number of products or limited to a specific operating system or is it technology neutral and able to be used by many products?

In addition to the above, you should also give consideration to the sustainability of the file format you choose. In another blog post, I will deal the characteristics of sustainable file formats.

While PDF may not be the perfect file format, it is what we currently have to work with. As we wait, remember that you have an opportunity to make the current file formats as good as they can be by making recommendations for improvements to the standards upon which the file formats are based.

For more information on standards, please visit

#FileFormats #ElectronicRecordsManagement #PDF/UA #PDF/A #ERM #PDF #ScanningandCapture #PDF/E
1 comment


05-22-2012 14:28

PDF is not dead, but it’s not “cool” also. I have been working with PDF for a long time and I see it as one of the greatest tools for document management ever invented. It has always been the standard for document fidelity, and a universally accepted format. But, for everything PDF is one thing you cannot say about it is that it is “cool”. PDF seems to be a format for the “old” way of doing things. It perfectly replicated a paper document into electronic format which was great when print document were king. But, today information is mobile and fluid and needs a format that is less tied to being an electronic version of a piece of paper.
For PDF to not just survive, but to thrive it has to change. It needs to be more adaptable for small mobile screens (PDF/M for mobile). It needs to have more multi-media elements not tied to Flash. It needs to be smaller and reflow better. And it needs to be used more as a format for today. What new “cool” feature has occurred in PDF lately that has caused a stir in the community? I can’t think of any. Even here most of the buzz has come from someone writing that “PDF must die.”

If PDF is to grow it’s going to have to be reborn into something that everyone wants to use. I’m not sure how it achieves that goal, but it must try. It’s too great a technology to only be used for archiving paper documents.