Adobe looks to have full PDF spec become ISO standard

Adobe is beginning the process to have its entire PDF specification, not just subsets of the technology, recognized as an international standard

Adobe Systems is taking the first step towards having its entire Portable Document Format (PDF) specification recognised as a global standard by the International organisation for Standardisation (ISO).

The vendor has announced plans to submit the full PDF 1.7 specification to enterprise content management non-profit organisation the Association for Information and Image Management with the hope that AIIM will then recommend ISO adopt it as an international standard.

In part the move was driven by a growing proliferation of ISO standards around different subsets of the PDF specification, according to director of product management with Adobe, Sarah Rosenbaum. "It was becoming a bit of an alphabet soup dependent on industries or uses of the specification," she said.

PDF/Archive (PDF)/A) and PDF/Exchange (PDF/X) are already approved ISO standards, with two more under consideration and likely to become standards in the next 8-12 months -- PDF for Engineering (PDF/E) and PDF for Universal Access (PDF/UA). Additionally, AIIM has proposed PDF for Healthcare (PDF/H) as a best practices guide.

Having PDF 1.7 as an ISO standard should make life easier for organisations that need to comply with government-mandated strategies to use the format. "The entire spec will be available as an umbrella standard," Rosenbaum said.

She doesn't see Adobe's decision as a response to the recent moves towards standardization recognition by the backers of duelling electronic document formats -- the OpenDocument Format (ODF) supported by Sun Microsystems, IBM and open-source players like OpenOffice.org versus Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML). In May 2006, ISO approved ODF as an international standard and is currently considering whether to give the same recognition to Open XML.

Adobe's work to have PDF subsets approved as ISO standards dates back to 1995 when initial work on PDF/X begun.

The process to gain ISO approval for PDF 1.7 would begin with the formation of a joint technical committee under the auspices of AIIM whose members would include Adobe, Microsoft and enterprise applications vendor SAP AG, Rosenbaum said. The group would flag any issues that needed to be addressed in the specification and how to resolve those problems and produce a draft document that it would present to ISO for further development of PDF as an international standard.

The entire process could take one to three years before PDF 1.7 becomes an ISO standard and, at any point in the proceedings, changes could be made to the specification, she said.

In the meantime, work won't stop on the other ISO PDF subset standards currently in development and Rosenbaum also doesn't expect any change in the use of PDF/A or PDF/X.

Adobe begun publishing the complete PDF specification back in 1993 and has tended to issue updates of the specification in its online PDF Reference Manual as it releases new versions of its Acrobat software. Third parties have been able to develop applications that read and write PDF files without having to use Adobe's software. Sometimes, users have been keen to see certain changes made to PDF, but then have had to wait for the next Acrobat release to see them included in the specification.

Having the entire PDF specification part of a standards organisation should help such changes appear publicly sooner, Rosenbaum said.

"We hope people will create new applications and uses for PDF," she said.

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