PDF In-Depth

PDF Master: Ted Padova talks with Planet PDF

February 24, 2003


As part of our ongoing reflection on the June 1993 introduction of Adobe Acrobat and PDF by Adobe Systems, Planet PDF CEO Karl De Abrew is conducting a series of brief "Masters of the PDF Universe" profiles with key members of the Planet PDF community. Today Karl talks with Ted Padova, someone who both practices what he preaches and preaches what he practices when it comes to Acrobat and PDF. Padova is the author of several relevant books, with the Acrobat PDF Bible probably his best-known. Padova also speaks at various industry conferences and events, offers workshops and teaches courses. In addition, Padova is the CEO and Managing Partner of The Image Source Digital Imaging and Photo Finishing Centers in Ventura and Thousand Oaks, CA.

KARL DE ABREW: Today many Acrobat & PDF users will be familiar with you because of your work as the author of many Acrobat/PDF books including Acrobat 5.0 PDF Bible, Creating Adobe Acrobat Forms & Adobe Acrobat 5 Complete Course. When and why did you first get involved with Acrobat/PDF?

TED PADOVA: I started using Adobe Acrobat in it's first release, version 1.0 in 1992. I started a service bureau in 1990. At that time we were using PostScript Level 1 RIPs. Files as simple as a 32K Illustrator or CorelDraw file could take hours to print or often they crashed our RIPs. We used Acrobat Distiller and Acrobat Exchange (as it was called then) to be a problem solver for use when we encountered stubborn files that couldn't print. I remember my imaging technicians running up to me telling me they tried to print such and such file and it crashed the RIP. Then they would say "but Ted, after I 'Acrobated it, it printed in minutes." I remember one file in particular that we tried to print for more than 8 hours until we finally stopped the RIPing. It was a 150 MB PostScript file that reduced to less than 300 K after distillation and printed perfectly after 15 minutes of RIPing.

DE ABREW: Briefly describe the most significant change in the development or use of the technology, since you first began working with Acrobat/PDF, and why do you consider it significant?

PADOVA: One milestone I remember is when Acrobat Pro (version 2 that settled at 2.1) was released. Acrobat Catalog was introduced then and Acrobat started to reach out to more users. It became more than just a rescue utility for me and we began to see the real promise of PDF. I started to look at Acrobat much differently then and I used it for more than printing and prepress. Version 3 was the next big step and when I really started evangelizing the product. I convinced our local Ad club to build a CD-ROM of all the ADDY award entries and we put all the artwork on CD for that year with all the winners acknowledged. The file had bookmarks, links and sound and a CD-ROM was distributed at the end of the ADDY Award show to all the attendees. As I headed up the project with several local designers, everyone kept saying, "WOW, I didn't know you could do that in Acrobat!" It was version 3 that I proposed writing the Acrobat PDF Bible with my publisher and I also proposed a new class on Acrobat at the University of California where I was teaching part time. Both my publisher and the university thought it was absurd that I would want to spend any kind of time on that little thingy you could download free from Adobe's Web site. Since then, I believe I convinced them otherwise.

DE ABREW: Acrobat and PDF are now used in so many industries and in so many ways, do you see new areas that haven't perhaps been tapped much yet?

PADOVA: It seems to me that many people are always looking over the mountain, so to speak, about where we're going and what's going to happen next without realizing they have the tools to do such fantastic things right now and today. I don't see a new emerging market for Acrobat PDF because many people in every industry are using it today. It's everywhere. What I do see happening is tremendous expansion of existing markets by the end of this year. I think some of the real growth we'll see will be in design and printing professionals expanding an already standardized market. We'll see much interest with engineering professionals and growth in enterprises from industry, education and government. We'll see some more growth in the eBook marketplace that still needs a little more time to mature, and I think we'll see some growth with multimedia professionals. I also think we'll see more growth in the legal profession. By the end of this calendar year I believe Acrobat will grow substantially in all markets across the board.

DE ABREW: Acrobat has grown into a large, multi-function tool for use in so many areas -- including document management, presentations, collaboration, forms and prepress -- and it can be intimidating for new users. Is there a need for separating out this functionality to make it easier to use.

PADOVA: This is the agony and the ecstasy for the Acrobat evangelist. It's agonizing because as a tool to service a broad range of people, it requires more time to mature and be accepted. We haven't come close to critical mass because many people are still a little confused about what Acrobat is, what it does, and what exactly PDF is. For all the Acrobat savvy people it seems that there aren't many who don't know about Acrobat. But in the real world, there are masses of people who cannot clearly tell you what PDF is and many who still don't know there's a difference between Acrobat and the Reader software.

The ecstasy is that Acrobat is a tool for every computer user. In my opinion it should be the first program purchased after the operating system. It is indeed intimidating to some new users, but what needs to be understood is that just because Acrobat supports many different features, not all features are intended to be used by a single user. After all, who uses every feature supported by Microsoft Word? For productivity workers, they look for a tool to get the job done. Inasmuch as the tool may be intimidating, it's not so intimidating that it's preventing users from jumping in and struggling to learn how to use it. I'm not convinced that dividing up a program into several programs targeted at groups of users is the best solution. Everyone works differently and we all have different needs. The design professional who prepares documents for prepress may start working with multimedia, and then forms design and perhaps start servicing people who need accessible documents. Acrobat lets you evolve to expand your work and your services as you need them. Where would we draw the lines if we start segmenting applications to lighter versions?

I think what's needed and what we may see one day are core applications that contain toolbars for different kinds of work and the toolbars could be loaded across applications. For example, if you want to use the Pen tool from Adobe Illustrator, you load the toolbar in Acrobat, Photoshop, InDesign, FrameMaker or GoLive. The same holds true for many other tools that eventually will work across program applications. When you buy a product you start with a core engine and load tools according to your needs. In essence, the program is a lite program that you customize for the work you want to do. As you evolve with your knowledge and expand your services, additional toolbars and palettes are there for you to add to your core engine. The program ships with no compromises and leaves no one out. And then you go out and buy a 1,000 page book to learn how to use everything!

DE ABREW: Pondering the future of Acrobat and/or PDF, what most excites you about the next few years?

PADOVA: This year has me excited more than any other year I can remember. Unfortunately, I cannot comment on anything specific but I will say that this year everyone will see some very, very exciting things! What I would recommend to users is to not be concerned about what will happen tomorrow. You have many great tools, particularly from Adobe Systems, that are here to use today. The more you learn about using these tools, the more advanced you'll be when new tools are introduced. Adobe Systems has been evolving with much integration between their programs. I think that we'll continue to see much more integration and perhaps one day we'll evolve to those core applications that support using tools across a manufacturer's product line.

DE ABREW: Briefly describe a common misconception about or frequent problem you've seen with Acrobat/PDF that you'd like to try to clarify for others and/or provide a tip to address.

PADOVA: There could be many answers to this question. I think one of the most common things I see with many users is sometimes a little lack of imagination. We approach the use of computer programs as a productivity tool to get a particular job finished and tend to become fixed on routine tasks. This method works for many different computer programs, but it doesn't work for Acrobat. Acrobat is a multi-faceted tool. It can become a significant participant for many different office jobs everyone performs. Its intent is to coexist with productivity tools, not to replace them. The first thing to do is let your imagination go wild and always come back to the question, can Acrobat help me out with this job? As an example, I've attended many different conferences in recent years that were centered around PDF. Many of my colleagues often use PowerPoint for their slide presentations even when talking about Acrobat. Whenever I prepare a slide presentation, I always create it in a layout program, convert to PDF, and use many of Acrobat's tools to prepare my presentations. Acrobat is a marvelous tool for presentations especially when you're talking about Acrobat. I run through slides with links to other PDF documents and links to native documents that launch the authoring application from within Acrobat. I don't have to search a hard drive because everything is linked and when I quit another program after demonstrating something, I'm returned to the Acrobat window. Presentations is just one small example of how Acrobat can be used. There are tons of other uses for just about every office job you can imagine. The key is to let your imagination free and always come back to the question... "can Acrobat help me out?"

For a tip for users, going back to my example on presentations, if you want to put a slide show together with links to supporting files, there's a little preference option you should look at setting before you run your slide show. By default Acrobat closes a file when a new file opens with a link or button field. This setting is in the Preferences dialog box (strike Control/Command + K to open the Preferences dialog box). Click on Options in the left pane and disable the item "Open Cross-Document Links in Same Window." When disabled, your presentation stays open behind new files you open in the Acrobat Document Pane. When you close the linked files you're back on the same slide where you left off.

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