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Duff Johnson

Independent Consultant and PDF Association Vice-Chairman

Duff Johnson

Since 2011, Duff has worked in the ECM industry specializing in PDF technology since 1995. An industry leader, Duff co-chairs the international committee that manages ISO 32000, the specification for the PDF file format.


A transatlantic background, a taste for the technical and three years in political consulting somehow brought Duff Johnson to the conclusion in 1995 that political campaigns needed the ability to rapidly search through electronic or scanned documents. He set out to offer the service. That business didn't work out too well, but along the way, Duff discovered that there was a market for the capabilities of Adobe's Adobe Acrobat and Reader software to create, distribute and view PDF files.

Industry Standards

"If PDF didn't exist, someone would have to invent it."

Duff believes that the key function of PDF -- to serve as electronic paper, a record of a particular document's state at a given moment in time -- is key to modern business infrastructure.

Duff believes that the key function of PDF -- to serve as electronic paper -- is an essential component of foreseeable information-age business infrastructure. Duff is known to his colleagues as a "PDF purist" for his representation of end-user interests at the standards table.

To encourage the acceptance, adoption and extension of PDF technology, Duff serves the industry in a number of capacities relating to the development of International Standards for PDF.

Chair of AIIM's PDF/Universal Accessibility initiative since 2005, Duff now serves as Chair of the U.S. Committee for ISO/AWI 14289 (PDF/UA), Vice Chair of the U.S. Committee for ISO 32000 (PDF Reference) and as U.S. Spokesperson for both the ISO 32000 and ISO/AWI 14289 committees.

In addition to his roles in standards development Duff serves as Vice Chair of the PDF Association. The PDF Association exists to provide software vendors and enterprise implementers with information and resources on the various International Standards for PDF to help them make the most of their investment in PDF technology.

For his service to the industry in support of PDF standards development Duff was presented with AIIM's Distinguished Service Award in 2010.

Document Solutions, Inc. (DSI) 1996-2008

The essence of Duff's original service-bureau organization was to use Adobe's Acrobat software to do what DSI's customers wanted, but didn't themselves know how to do. When Adobe added new features to PDF and to Acrobat, DSI would add new services to help end-users use PDF to solve their business and communications problems. Some examples:

  • In 1996, DSI created a sophisticated user-interface for CD-ROM based collections of PDFs
  • In 1997, DSI leveraged the unique capabilities of PDF to combine lossless black-and-white scanned pages with lossy JPEG color images. "MultiResolution PDF" was very popular with publishers, and DSI went on to convert millions of pages of academic journals and magazines to PDF using this technique.
  • In 1998, shortly after Adobe's initial release of PDF forms technology, DSI added form-fields to over 30,000 PDF insurance forms for server-based filling and delivery.
  • In 2001, DSI was the first organization in the world to tag PDF files for accessibility purposes, and offer Section 508 compliance services for PDF content.

Squeezed between the ever-increasing capabilities of Acrobat software and the burgeoning expectations of end-users, DSI has busied itself with filling the gaps between software and customer since 1996.

Articles, Blogs, Forum Posts, Seminars...

In addition to his work on PDF Standards, Duff is one of the most respected writers in the PDF technology space, with dozens of feature articles on a wide variety of subjects relating to the use (and misuse) of PDF technology and electronic documents in general. His articles, blog posts, software reviews, forums advice and other public writings offer a staunchly independent perspective and a fierce loyalty to the concepts behind the technology rather than any particular purveyor.

Duff's articles have been featured on the Best of Planet PDF volumes 1 and 2. A regular panelist and speaker at industry events, Duff has presented at AIIM, Seybold, AGI, PDF Conference, PDF Central, BFMA and other conferences and trade-shows.


Duff Johnson is based in Boston, Massachusetts. When he's not thinking, speaking or writing about PDF technology, Duff may be found SCUBA diving in chilly New England waters, and occasionally, more exotic locations.

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There has been a lot written lately about the "insecurity" of PDF. Depending on the case, security issues can arise due to complacency on the part of users, software vulnerabilities, or both. In this article, Appligent Document Solutions CEO Duff Johnson outlines the problems and offers advice for minimizing PDF-related security risks.

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Word doesn't do Section 508, PDF gets the blame

So, you think PDF is a problem when it comes to accessibility and Section 508 compliance? Some of the key gripes about the compliance of PDF files are actually due to limitations in Microsoft Word. Appligent Document Solutions CEO Duff Johnson explains in this feature article.

Enterprise & Government   June 18, 2010

Is PDF an open standard?

On May 13, the founders of Adobe Systems stepped up to the microphone to deliver a response to Steve Jobs' open letter about Flash. They say Adobe has acted on open standards while Apple offers mere words. In this article, Appligent Document Solutions CEO Duff Johnson provides some background that places their claims in context.

Enterprise & Government   June 10, 2010

No, PDF is NOT owned by Adobe!

It is commonly believed that PDF is a proprietary format and that is owned by Adobe. Neither of these claims is now true -- we all own PDF, explains Appligent Document Solutions CEO Duff Johnson.

Enterprise & Government   May 20, 2010

The Tablet: What it means for publishing

The recent launch of the iPad, Apple's tablet device, has set the Net buzzing. The release has Appligent Document Solutions CEO Duff Johnson thinking about the future of personal computing and what he calls "the tablet economy" -- a computing ecosystem centered around tablet-based devices. Duff outlines his predictions and offers some guidance for content publishers in this feature article.

Enterprise & Government   January 27, 2010

PDF on the iPhone: The first swipe

With the extreme popularity of iPhones, PDF documents are even more portable than ever -- with the appropriate applications, of course. Appligent Document Solutions' CEO Duff Johnson reviews a range of PDF-related applications for the iPhone to help you find the best way to indulge your PDF habit when you are on the move.

Enterprise & Government   October 15, 2009

The PDF prescription for health care cost control

Healthcare costs in the US have significantly outpaced inflation for several decades. Leaving aside the political questions of how care is financed or delivered, everyone agrees that controlling administrative costs is essential to bringing healthcare expenditures in-line. To treat this problem, Appligent Document Solutions CEO Duff Johnson has a prescription for the healthcare industry: PDF.

Enterprise & Government   August 20, 2009

How Reader Extensions should be sold

Reader Extensions allows the free Adobe Reader to perform functions otherwise only available in Adobe's Acrobat desktop software. Unfortunately, the current pricing model has been a barrier to the adoption of Reader Extensions by small-to-medium organizations. In this article, Duff Johnson suggests ways that Adobe could better position this useful functionality to get more "bang for its buck."

Enterprise & Government   July 09, 2009
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