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What Makes PDF The Most Important File Format?

Posted on 25 December, 2019 by Administrator

What Makes PDF The Most Important File Format?

You might not even realize it because you're just too used to having to deal with it every day, but the reality is that the PDF format, despite its popularity and its apparent simplicity, is a revolutionizing file format that will be around for a long time. It changed the way many people work and communicate within and through businesses.

Because today you can easily exchange, share and read PDF documents, all just from a click, the relevance of this file format might not be apparent to you. After all, it seems so basic, right? Well, the truth is that the importance of PDF, today and possibly for future generations cannot be understated.

But what makes PDF so important? What should we expect from it in the future and how did it become so prominent? If you are interested to find the answers to these questions, this article is all about it, so keep reading to learn more. Some facts might surprise you!

The truth is that PDF is uncommonly under the spotlight. Well, of course, we are just too used to it to even think that there might be problems with this format, aren't we? PDF usually doesn't get a lot of attention and the story of its origins is not an exciting one and most probably you don't even know about it. Still, it is a story that seems to set the basis for a bright future for this file format, and that allowed PDF to become so commonly used by everyone, which is why it is worth to talk about it.

 Are you wondering where does the importance of PDF come from? The truth is not as obvious as you might think.

 John E. Warnock, the co-founder of Adobe outlined his business motivation for the creation of PDF in his first essay written to reveal and to present the concept of the PDF format file. According to him, businesses were in the need for a strong for better communication and administration which could be easily achieved through standardized documents that would be equally viewable and printable on any device. Warnock aided in the development of PostScript, the document scripting language used by Adobe. At the time when he published his essay (as a PDF, of course!) most computers could not handle the PostScript language which was simply too heavy to be processed. With the power of machines evolving, and the progress of Adobe, today, the features of the PDF format file can be enjoyed by just any computer or laptop. It is not diminishing to say that thanks to PDF many processes had been improved and businesses have become more efficient. But let's look at when did it all start.

The Issue of Tax Forms

During the 1990s, when Warnock and his team were busy figuring out how to create a simpler format to read documents on common users' computers, the Internal Revenue Service, commonly shortened as IRS, was facing an essential problem in its work with the Postal Service of the United States.

The IRS had the unpleasant task of mailing tax forms to taxable people all around the US, which needed to be distributed just before the tax payment period. Such a task was huge in terms of work and effort and it was the largest annual mailing service that posts had to deal with, without taking into account Census years. The difficulty of the task to be achieved by the IRS had to do not only with the scale of the operations but also with the wide variety of exceptions and differences for every form, filed for individuals and businesses. The tax code was extremely complicated and having to print and deliver millions of forms was very challenging.

The issue of tax forms was hell for anyone involved with any part of the process. In this situation, the simple, standardized format of the PDF would have been of enormous help. The Internal Revenue Service was not only spending a lot of time preparing the forms, but also at getting updates from the federal government. There were, of course, some software solutions aimed at helping such issues. For example, TurboTax and MacInTax were some of the most popular ones. But that was a time where computers were new on the market and the average person did not have enough trust on a machine to compile taxes for him. Printed forms were still the most preferred way to deliver and receive results on tax reports.

The Launching of PDF by Adobe

Adobe was ready by the end of 1992 when the company first launched the new, innovative PDF technology under the name of Acrobat. The presentation took place at the COMDEX, and the press showed excitement about the project as the technology would allow having an accurate preview on screen before printing a document. The presentation was so well received that it was awarded the prize of "Best of the COMDEX show".

Despite all the sparked interested, the early stages of Adobe's introduction to the world were not easy. People did not seem to understand the value of the file format and they were not aware of the importance that having to send documents electronically will have on the job world, on every business communication especially and not only.

The IRS was just one obvious example of the necessity to have such a technology, and this is without going into the issues faced by the corporate world along the same lines.

Adobe could solve many problems related to the insane amount of paper produced by offices around the world. NetworkWorld report the IRS use of PDF already in 1994, which helped Adobe in gaining presence and popularity.

However, for PDF to boom, the web was still missing. It was the web that facilitated the access to documents online and consequently required the PDF format. By 1996, the IRS entered the online world and made available tax formats in PDF on their website, which could be easily downloaded by any user with a computer.

We can surely state the IRS played an important role in the success of PDF as a format. Thanks to the adaptation of the software, they were able to save millions of dollars in the printing and the heavy logistics that was behind the earlier process of distributing tax forms. Not only PDF was helping in cutting unnecessary costs and improving the overall service, but it also made materials and documents more easily accessible for the company's members at each department and it improved communication. Audits could also be carried out more efficiently with electronic documents made available for tax examiners and auditors.

Acrobat, with the great improvement it brought in terms of administration and paper storage as well as internal and external communication, was revolutionizing, the immense value of PDF in the business world has been for long understated, but it is crucial to admit that is indeed considerable.

The adoption of PDF by the IRS was Acrobat and Adobe's launching pad. From there, it quickly became the most important way with which businesses shared documents for their employees and external stakeholders.

PDF simplified many aspects of doing business. For instance, it eliminated the struggle of having to use Kinko, since the format was able to embed images and include several types of fonts already. In the beginning, PDFs were not editable, but today they have evolved to become searchable and to allow you to make changes directly to the document.

Also, for the IRS it was possible to create forms that could be easily and quickly filled by the users, speeding up a process that asked for immense logistical and operational efforts.

Today, PDF has become a standard for global information exchange, not only for industries, businesses, and average users but also for governmental departments. Thanks to this file format, important documents can now be safe, secured, easily managed and shared but also preserved for generations.

Adobe started with leaving the PDF format open for companies to use it, making it become a standard in no time. It did, however, charge a good amount of money for the creative tools (such as the editing). In 2007, Adobe created an open standard in partnership with the International Standard Organization. This is how important the PDF format had become.

The Archival: Arguably PDF's Most Prominent Role Today 

Yes, it is true, standardization is highly boring and not very interesting. It is, however, extremely important when it comes to archive files. It makes it a lot easier to retrieve and store documents, eliminating the pain of having to update the formatting of old files, for example.

But standardization might remove the interactivity or the creativity of some documents. Still, PDF is a great tool when it comes to archive not only for standardization but also for the search feature, which saves a lot of time and improves efficiency in many administrative tasks.

The PDF/A format was a new file format launched in 2005. It is designed for better computer use and it aims at maximizing the reproducibility of documents. For example, it can replace printed documents in versions so close to the original, printed version that you would not be able to notice the difference. According to a marketing specialist for Document solutions, PDF/A files include everything it needs to re-create a document in the same way. It includes fonts, color profiles, and images that are all made to ensure a reliable replication of a printed document.

Not only that, the PDF/A format falls under the category of ISO standard, which grants that future generations will be able to open a PDF/A file and analyze it under the same conditions as we see the document today.

Organizations that have long based their operations on physical archives and have to deal constantly with the issue of lost originals, of administration and the deterioration of printed paper, can benefit from this feature. For example, the Library of Congress is saving information for future generations and need to do so in a format that will be readable in several years from now.

It does, however, also lead to some issues, for example when the PDF was expanded to include embedding of HTML documents or Excel files. Some critics list some issues with the use of PDF/A, the first and probably most important one being the fact that it can be particularly heavy to use.

Some experts have even stronger critics in terms of the file format. For example, because it is so heavy, the usability expert Jakob Nielsen strongly advises against using it, claiming that it is not good for anything else more than printing.

However, the need and the desire to quickly and efficiently archive documents for current and future uses limited the discussion or the questioning of PDF as a suitable format that would make sense to use in the long run, Because PDF was already so common and popular, when PDF/A arrived, not many would think about criticizing it. It was the best solution for digital archiving and possibly re-use was still not an issue at the time.

This might be the case, but chances are that you, just as much as pretty much anyone, have created, loaded and stored a good number of PDFs over the years. Some documents are not meant to be transformed into PDF, but still, it has to be recognized how much the widespread of PDF has helped in terms of digitizing, protecting and preserving our knowledge and information, across different industries and sectors.

Thanks to the PDF and despite some of the weaknesses behind the use of this format, we will be able to document the history consistently and more reliably. Digital documents will last longer and will not suffer from decay. We can easily expect the history of our generation to be written in PDF format.

The truth is that the PDF format and Adobe solved efficiently and on a big scale a major problem and improved under many aspects of communications and the way of doing business but also the sharing of information.

Today we all take too much for granted that PDF is common everywhere and used by almost anyone with a computer, but it wasn't always like that. As we mentioned earlier, the first years of Adobe were not great. Acrobat even had to charge for its Acrobat Reader, which was a very risky choice dictated by desperation. They still charge for Acrobat (and license fees are not small) but Adobe's success is based on the decision of making PDF free and accessible by anyone. Today, when thinking of Adobe, it might be common that the first thing that comes to your mind is Photoshop, but you have to acknowledge that its main and most successful product is indeed the PDF format. It was what launched Adobe and set the base for the creation of other exciting programs such as InDesign and Illustrator, among many others.

You know the key points of the history of the PDF file format. Although it is not as exciting as other stories, it is essential for you to realize and recognize the importance of this tool, that today is so prevalent it is even at the center of major political scandals.

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