DigiPub Solutions' PDF Conference provides answers, raises questions
Latest ePaper product releases demonstrated, discussed and debated in Las Vegas

27 November 2002

By Kurt Foss, Planet PDF Editor

Late November may not seem the optimal time for a Las Vegas getaway -- as the local headline noted last week, with the annual U.S. Thanksgiving holiday fast approaching: 'We're a little short on Puritans here.' Nonetheless, those who did venture to the City of Sin this past weekend for the recently concluded PDF Conference 2002 had a lot for which to be thankful.

Attendee Judi Ashlock of Shindaiwa, Inc. offered this assessment:

"Wow! Thank you so much for the valuable information. I can't wait to get back to the office and begin implementing the things I've learned. Everyone -- vendors, speakers, attendees -- were wonderful. I am fairly new to PDF and didn't realize the depth or following it had. After this conference I am now inspired to further enhance my PDF abilities. I can honestly say that both my company and myself have greatly benefitted from my attendance."

Another offered similar (but anonymous) feedback:

"I loved the conference and will use much of the information. We're moving to delivery of a technical library via the Internet and info about minimizing file size is very useful. Next time we'll bring along one of our IT guys to a conference so they can better help us implement what we want to do. All this and fun too. What more could you ask for?"

Some who sampled the local temptations by night might have asked for a bit more luck at the casinos, but by day -- Friday through Sunday -- it was hard *not* to come away a winner after attending the varied sessions led by global Acrobat/PDF experts.

The Alexis Park Hotel served as the oasis for this latest rendition of the twice-annual conference, produced and hosted by DigiPub Solutions. According to DigiPub's Carl Young, this was the best of the three events held so far on the west coast (the conference is also held on the east coast early in the year) in terms of attendance -- with nearly 200 registrants -- and the best overall in terms of vendor support. The conference trade show featured not only product showcases, but also several hands-on training opportunities. And there were other indications that after three years, the PDF Conference has emerged as a 'must-see' educational happening.

According to Young, 90 percent of the registrants were first-time attendees, an important indicator the conference is reaching further into the still-growing world of Acrobat/PDF users. In turn, that bodes well for increased word-of-mouth promotions within many of the same organizations and companies that sent staff to last weekend's 'PDF Revival.' A list of those represented in Las Vegas, which offers a good cross-section of industries and businesses using Acrobat/PDF, included: Bechtel-Nevada, Boeing, Deloitte Touche, Intergy, Federal Aviation Association (FAA), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), IKON Office Solutions, JP Morgan Chase and Co., Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, MasterCard, the Mayo Foundation, National Renewable Energy Lab, National Weather Service, U.S. Navy, Schlumberg, Skadden Arps, State Farm Insurance, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Army, Army Corps of Engineers, USAA, Verizon and even one Las Vegas establishment -- RIO All-Suite Hotel and Casino.

As previously noted in our Planet PDF Weblog last Friday, Adobe Systems had sufficient staff on hand -- 20 or so -- to stage its own Vegas act, featuring no white tigers but plenty of discussion about its recently announced ePaper product line enhancements. Both Adobe and activePDF offered on-site training for interested attendees on specific products, a fitting addition to a conference that sees its primary mission as skill enhancement. In terms of practicing what it preaches, the PDF Conference evaluation forms were converted this year from paper to an online system using an electronic forms solution from Movaris.

With a theme of "Leading-edge practices for regulated industries and government," a number of the sessions dealt with issues such as accessibility, document management and Web- and CD-based delivery of PDF, with prepress and printing matters getting less attention at this particular event. As Adobe's Jonathan Knowles, Worldwide ePaper Evangelist, underscored in an opening-day general session presentation, PDF is a solid de facto standard among government departments and organizations worldwide.

In another of the Friday sessions, conference host and emcee Carl Young queried attendees on some of their primary Acrobat/PDF practices and applications. Given that Acrobat 5 is -- in software terms -- an aging program, having been released in early 2001, it was surprising to see that a fair number of registrants were still using version 4 and at least one brave person actually admitted to using v.3. (The latter may have been a true believer in the preachings of usability guru Jakob Nielsen, who in a June 2001 column -- titled "Avoid PDF for On-Screen Reading" -- advocated that users stick with Acrobat v.3 until 2002 to avoid certain perceived problems, while thereby assuring themselves of many others.)

Much of the conference's enlightenment would have been beyond the grasp of Nielsen and any dedicated disciples, as it not only focussed on features that are part of the latest versions of Acrobat and the PDF specification, but also covered -- and promoted -- the use of interactive PDFs well-suited for a variety of applications both on the Internet and on CD-ROM.

On a sidenote, given Acrobat 5's senior status and the standing-room-only Adobe presence, some might have expected to hear something at the conference about a future Acrobat 6.0 product. True to its long-standing practice of not discussing unannounced products -- even ones whose anticipated 2003 arrival has been the source of speculation by analysts and others for several months -- Adobe was for the most part tight-lipped, with only a couple 'read-between-the-line' comments about what might be expected (to be added or removed) in a future release. (Adobe never refers to such forthcoming products by obvious terms such as "version 6.0," although we've yet to see any major product release that leapfrogged to a number other than the next full digit on the numerical chorus line.) That said, and as explained in our Weblog entry late last week, the next edition of the PDF Conference -- not-yet-announced, but expected to be mid-year 2003 -- seems highly likely to be a showcase for a "future version" of Acrobat.

During his "Industry Update" spiel, Young displayed a current listing of available or announced ePaper products, including the newest offerings -- several server-based solutions with "enterprise pricing" aimed clearly at the needs (and budgets) of large organizations and corporations. He also mentioned some of the recent industry rumblings about a possible assault on PDF from Microsoft in the form of an electronic-forms-related addition to its Office product suite dubbed XDocs. Young dismissed some of the seemingly outlandish speculation that had PDF taking a fatal hit, predicting instead that a more likely scenario -- for a variety of reasons -- was that XDocs (whatever it actually turns out to be whenever it actually ships) will peacefully coexist with PDF for most users and uses.

While Adobe reps on deck had to like Young's take on that situation, they looked less favorably on a subsequent comment related to the "additional usage rights" capabilities of the recently released Acrobat Reader v. 5.1. Young cited the addition of several features in the new, still-free Reader that previously were only available in commercial versions of Acrobat (or Approval). These rights -- and tools -- can be enabled by document creators on a per-document basis, giving users the ability to electronically comment, add a digital signature and/or save form-entered data within a document using only Reader. However, the ability to enable these features is not something owners of desktop versions of the full Acrobat product will be able to do, a point of some confusion; rather, it requires the use of Adobe's new Document server with Reader Extensions, a solution that as already mentioned carries a minimum five-figure price tag. Young noted that with the new usage rights, for the first time Adobe had built features into PDF that other third-party vendors and developers could not access, which of course would diminish Adobe's oft-repeated claim of PDF being an open standard.

An Adobe rep sought an immediate a clarification, causing Young to pause his presentation to allow her the opportunity to point out there apparently is a licensing opportunity for some third-party vendors that want to be able to utilize some of Reader 5.1 enhanced, but by-default disabled, features. She explained that Adobe is *definitely* allowing plug-in developers to create Acrobat Reader 5.1 plug-ins to work in an 'additional usage rights' mode (plug-ins must be related to the APIs that are present in Reader). Entrust, VeriSign, Silanis, Valyd, and DSoft have all updated their Acrobat 5.x plug-ins to work with Reader 5.1, and other partners have related products or projects in development, according to Adobe. Plug-in development is apparently limited to Forms and Digital Signatures, not to the Comments capabilities. Adobe is allowing the creation of these plug-ins to Reader 5.1 on a case-by-case basis via a contract; developers interested in writing a Forms and/or Digital Signature plug-in should contact Adobe.

The shift in features represents a shift in thinking by Adobe, one that addresses -- at least in part -- what has been one of the longest-standing gripes about the free Acrobat Reader. Many have viewed Reader's intentional lack of ability to allow users to save PDF form-entered data within the form document -- requiring end users of forms to purchase a commercial software product -- as a barrier to wider acceptance and use of PDF forms. With the Reader 5.1 and server-enabled rights solution, Adobe now passes the cost to the document creators, many whom the company says have asked for this transformation so they could allow customers to properly work with forms using only the free Adobe product.

Since the announcement of the rights-enabling solutions, some have wondered whether the licensing for the needed server configuration would allow a third-party to purchase and install a system to serve other customers who wanted to rights-enable a small batch of forms, but couldn't justify on their own an investment in a full-fledged setup. According to Adobe, such a model "is not supported at this time."

Surely this will be a point of continuing discussion, one likely to still be lively when the PDF Conferences re-convenes again on the East Coast in 2003 -- likely in the Washington, DC area in the early-June timeframe, according to the organizers.


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