Twin keynotes set tone at first Seybold PDF Conf. NY 2002
Nearly 10 years since Adobe Systems unveiled portable document format concept

27 February 2002

By Kurt Foss, Planet PDF Editor

There's no lost PDF decade.

While last week's two-day event in New York City was billed as the first Seybold PDF Conference, many familiar with the technology are certainly aware that Seybold has for many years offered a special "PDF Day" program -- and later, two separate 'Day' programs (print and electronic) for Acrobat users -- at both its annual east and west coast events.

In fact, as was pointed out Thursday in opening comments by Craig Cline, Seybold Seminars' VP of Content, the concept of PDF was actually first unveiled by then-Adobe Systems John Warnock at a Seybold gathering in 1991. Acrobat 1.0 was officially unwrapped in 1993 at ... where else ... Seybold Seminars.

"No matter how much PDF we offer," Cline said, in announcing 'version 1.0 of the Seybold PDF Conference,' "people always tell us they want more."

Hans Hartman, co-chair for the new conference, explained that the reason for this year's *first* label, 10 years after Warnock's pipe dream, had more to do with an expansion of the program -- six tracks rather than the two 'Day' programs -- and a higher positioning in the conference marquee. Planet PDF has been pleased to be a co-sponsor of the old and new events.

PDF Today and tomorrow
"The best of Acrobat and PDF is yet to come in the next 10 years."
-- Joe Eschbach, VP for ePaper Solutions Business Unit, Adobe Systems

The Good Old Pre-PDF Days

So there'd be no doubt that PDF has been steadily building mindshare for nearly a decade, Joe Eschbach, VP of Adobe's ePaper Solutions group, opened his share of the dual keynotes -- "Adobe PDF: Today and Tomorrow" [PDF: 540kb] -- with an amusing videoclip from the early days of Adobe's efforts to explain the perceived virtues of its portable document format (PDF).

The 10-minute, vintage 1993 video offered a glimpse at a fictitious -- but all too real -- office where employees, among other things:

  • marvelled at their ability to send ascii text ('one doesn't need bold, just a well-placed exclamation point') all around the world

  • bragged about having one pair of computers within the organization linked together ('98% of interoffice computers can't communicate')

  • rejoiced in being able to deliver urgent files via overnight services

  • displayed an enterprise archiving system -- rows and rows of file cabinets -- based on a paper-document-based system that a lone, semi-senile employee admitted was 'logical to him' (others spent up to three hours a day searching for lost information)

  • exchanged documents electronically by sending and receiving faxes (when the paper didn't jam) -- many that would end up being copied 19 times

The obvious question: Do we really need Acrobat/PDF?

The obvious answer: YES!

Eschbach pointed out what many attendees likely realized from their own, not-so-different experiences in 2002: "The value proposition [for Acrobat/PDF] is still relevant today." Ditto on the issues. He elaborated on the current status of Adobe's visions for the technology, which has become the company's biggest success story of the recent past, growing at a rate that astonished many technology analysts, while other products and technologies (and companies) have struggled in difficult economic times.

The future, as Adobe sees it, is summed up in its latest "Network Publishing" marketing mantra, signifying a state of mind and of communication tools that allow for "making visually rich, personalized content reliably available anytime, anywhere, on any device." Several recent Adobe product releases fit into specific spaces within the NP puzzle, including versions of Acrobat Reader that work on various hand-held devices, and tools and products that can create "tagged PDF" files that allow content to be repurposed and reflowed on a spectrum of smaller devices.

Adobe also announced its support of the recently approved PDF/X-1 standard, referencing the announcement by Time-Warner a week before the conference that it will be converting its digital ads system for its many print publications -- and requiring its advertising clients to switch -- from TIFFIT files to PDF/X1 by June 1.

Can you teach an old Reader new tricks?

Eschbach also offered a "technology preview" -- a glimpse at some *possible* new features currently being explored and discussed in Adobe's inner Acrobat sanctum. They could include one or more of the following:

  • a "Save" feature available in a "special version" of the free Acrobat Reader, probably the longest-standing, most-often-requested 'missing' feature; it would also allow creation of Comments in a PDF with Reader

  • a new feature that allows "document rights" to be embedded into a PDF -- aka "embedded rights" -- to be enabled on a user-specific basis

  • a method for including "optional content" within a single PDF, such as a single file carrying a variety of language versions in different layers

  • development of Readers and/or PDF viewers for a greater range of devices

"The best of Acrobat and PDF is yet to come in the next 10 years," Eschbach said.

300 Million ReadersOne of the most common indicators of PDF acceptance is the ever-increasing number (as cited by Adobe) of Acrobat Readers distributed. On one Adobe staff presentation at the conference, the figure 200 Million was used. In Eschbach's keynote presentation, the number grew to 300 Million -- but in his talk, he upgraded the total further to "more than 375 Million copies of Acrobat Reader distributed worldwide." In any case, following on the 10-year theme, there's one fact that's indisputable: Adobe's free PDF viewer has come a long way since it was first released at $25 per copy.

375 Million Readers

"The IRS is actively trying to get its products out to our customers."
-- Paul Showalter, Senior Technical Printing Specialist, Internal Revenue Service (IRS)

The Taxman Commeth ... less and less often by snail mail

One of the most prominent uses of those Readers (at least in the U.S.) has been to view and print tax forms from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Paul Showalter, a Senior Technical Printing Specialist in the IRS' MultiMedia Publishing division, offered testimony to that fact in his co-keynote.

"How many PDF files have been downloaded from the IRS web site since its creation (in 1995)?" Showalter asked rhetorically in his presentation titled "The IRS and PDF: The Past, the Present and the Future" [PDF: 600kb].

The Answer: More than one-half billion PDFs! Half of that was in the past year, Showalter says. Currently the IRS has 7,784 different PDF files available, roughly 3,000 of which are forms (not all publicly available).

The IRS offers a subset of its tax form collection as fillable PDF forms, although at present a taxpayer can't submit personal tax data from a PDF-based form. IRS fillable form The "e-filing" option available for filing taxes electronically does not use PDF, but Showalter believes that could change in the future.

Showalter cited statistics that revealed the impact of the IRS making its myriad forms and publications available in PDF, both online from multiple sources and on various CD-ROMs (some that include free copies of Acrobat Approval) -- a significant reduction (from 20 million requests in 1992 to 12 million in 1991) in mail orders requesting copies of forms be mailed to individual citizens and business, with a similar reduction for phone orders and support.

"The IRS is actively trying to get its products out to our customers," Showalter said, noting a service-oriented relationship with which not all taxpayers in attendence seemed to identify. In addition to the thousands of Federal tax forms available in PDF, Showalter says he recently verified that all 50 states now distribute their respective state tax forms in PDF, too, following the trend set by the IRS.

The IRS recently revamped its Web site (, one of the busiest among all Federal Government sites, to simplify the task of finding its various kinds of information. The homepage now features a "Forms and Publication Finder," a new, top-level searchbox. Knowing the official IRS reference number of a particular form helps considerably, especially in the case of a common tax form like the 1040 that has more than 100 variations, according to Showalter.

Doc Info for 1992 tax form

In addition to holding the PDF downloads record and being an early adopter (you can still download form 1040A [PDF: 84kb] from 1992, created with Acrobat v.1.0's then-allowed Net Distiller; see image at Right), the IRS not surprisingly qualifies for Acrobat superuser status -- with 130,000 licensed copies of Acrobat 5.0, it's Adobe's largest government licensee. In addition, Showalter said, PDF has been declared the IRS' internal file format standard. The organization is currently working on converting much of its existing tax forms into *accessible* PDF Forms.

By the way, the 1992 form isn't the IRS' oldest ... by more than a century. And the IRS is not without a sense of humor. Showalter says they've scanned archived tax forms from as far back as 1864 [PDF: 112kb] into PDF ... "back when we wanted a mule" as a form of tax payment, he said. [There's another joke there, but we won't touch it!]

PDF Today at the IRS

COMING: A Sampling of Sessions

During the next few weeks, Planet PDF will provide additional, updated coverage of some of the key topics covered at the Seybold PDF Conference, including:

  • Inside the Portable Document Format

  • PDF Authoring & Workflows

  • Accessibility and Section 508 Compliance

  • PDF Forms

  • Support Issues in PDF Workflows

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