About the Author
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.
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Duff Johnson is the CEO of Appligent Document Solutions. This article originally appeared on Appligent.com, and has been reprinted with permission.
"What's the purpose of PDF? Why can't I just send Word or Excel files; why should I bother converting to PDF?"
Very few "love" PDF, but we all need it, because PDF is electronic paper.
For the efficient and reliable delivery of final-form electronic documents, there's nothing else quite like a PDF file.
For business and government organizations, "posting the PDF" is now essentially the physical act of publication. Pretty much everyone with a computer is assumed to have a PDF Reader; it's a standard assumption in millions of interactions between consumers, business and government everyday. Hundreds of millions of people "PDF it" when they want to share some content.
Current squabbles between the two companies aside, even Apple's display technology is based on Adobe's PDF.
So how did electronic paper get defined as PDF?
Fundamentally, it's all about portability. Reliable viewing and printing across platforms is one of the great Killer Apps of all time.
There are other technologies that deliver some of PDF's complete package, but PDF is built from the outset to work the same way in all places, period. It turns out that's the most important thing of all. There are a set of very specific reasons why PDF is the world's choice for electronic paper. No other format offers this combination of attributes.
Easy to make and share
Sure, you can send a Word, HTML, PowerPoint or any other file. But other formats, while just as easy to attach to an email, aren't quite as easy to share as PDF.
First and foremost, you can't be sure the recipients have the same version of PowerPoint (or whatever you are sending). You may not want to give them the ability to edit the document, you don't want hassle with passwords. Making a PDF is usually just a click or two, and for that amount of effort, it's clearly a smart move.
A typical Acrobat or Reader user doesn't think about their choice to use PDF at a fundamental level. They make, send and use PDF files precisely because, hey -- why worry? PDF just works.
WHY YOU MIGHT CARE: Who doesn't like it easy?
Reliable, manageable presentation
There's just no excuse for poor presentation. From elaborate graphic-design to simply making sure the page-breaks happen just the way you've set it up, PDF delivers you from worrying about what it's going to look like or print on the other end.
Other formats might don't look quite the same when opened on different machines, or can't be opened on a Mac. There may be font dependencies, or differing page-sizes or other application or user settings that affect appearance. There may be undesirable information such as slide-show notes, metadata or track-changes information that's really a part of the file, and you might not want to share it!
Not only does PDF provide a completely faithful, high-fidelity rendering of your source document, but you can mix and match it with other documents from other sources. There's detailed management of all sorts of document functions, navigation features, accessibility and more, and it's all just ready to go, for users on every platform, inside of each and every PDF file.
WHY YOU MIGHT CARE: PDF delivery is entirely manageable and utterly predictable.
Convert from any source, use in every workflow
PDF files may be created from any application that can print, including desktop publishing, office software, design, database report and other applications. PDF files may also be produced from scanners, either with or without searchable text via OCR. You can even take a screen-shot and convert it to PDF and combine it with other PDF pages.
WHY YOU MIGHT CARE: Users can learn to make PDF files from any software in seconds, and every PDF file works with every other PDF file, so they can be shuffled and reorganized like ... paper pages.
Next: Smaller file-size, yet fully searchable (page 2 of 2)