Future PDF presentations will sing and dance with embedded SVG
Myth of the static file type is further buried with Image Viewer plug-in, to-be-updated PDF specification

31 January 2003

By Kurt Foss, Planet PDF Editor

At the Seybold Boston 1999 conference -- the final tandem performance by Adobe's John Warnock and Charles Geschke -- the company outlined the technologies and mission of its Professional Publishing Platform. One goal was to "seriously upgrade the Web," according to Warnock, in reference to Adobe's desire to work to improve the quality of graphics display on the Internet. Geschke had previously referred to the Web as being "like publishing on a dot matrix printer." Adobe hoped to achieve that lofty and important corporate goal in part by "driving standards to elevate the Web."

Among the potential file format standards the company was promoting at the time, and helping to develop, was Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG). As its name suggests, content in the format is vector-based -- viewers can zoom in to see greater detail with no quality loss. And it allows animation, which can incorporate video and audio clips. In other words, SVG seemed to offer great potential for a new generation of graphical content on the Web.

But several years later, while applications for and examples of SVG can be found online without great effort -- primarily at Web sites (and intranets) of industrial companies and organizations -- its use and proliferation remain far from commonplace. Web-oriented graphics on most commercial and personal Web sites still lean heavily toward the use of image formats such as .GIF, .JPEG and some use of .PNG.

Although standards approval for SVG did not occur as quickly as the now-retired Warnock and Geschke had imagined -- not unlike the slower-than-expected public adoption of Acrobat and PDF earlier -- the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) approved the SVG 1.0 specification in September 2001. Jon Ferraiolo of Adobe's Advanced Technology Group served as the editor for the SVG 1.0 spec, available for download at the W3C's Web site. Yet around the same time, there were at least some in the SVG Developers community who were beginning to question Adobe's long-term interest in and commitment to SVG. In recent online discussions some opined that in the recent past Adobe has exhibited a waning interest in the technology it once championed, with critics pointing to a perceived slowdown in updates to Adobe's SVG Viewer application, and more recently, the lack of SVG-viewing capability built into the free Adobe Acrobat Reader v.5.1, introduced last October. Prior to that, every copy of Acrobat Reader 5.0.x automatically installed the Adobe SVG Viewer. Many of Adobe's commercial software applications have SVG-related features, and further enhancements seem highly likely.

Most lingering skepticism seemed to vanish, however, with Adobe's recent announcement of the forthcoming Photoshop Album software, which allows for the creation of PDF-based slideshows. Related to that, a few weeks ago Adobe released a new "image Viewer" plug-in for Acrobat and Reader 5.1, as we reported at the time in our Planet PDF Weblog. It's designed to allow users to view PDF-based, multimedia slideshows, such as those created with the not-yet-shipping Photoshop Album software.

SVG Image Viewer
Adobe's Image Viewer plug-in for Acrobat 5 and Reader 5 installs numerous SVG-related files.

But as Leonard Rosenthol of PDF Sages subsequently noted in the Planet PDF Forum, and as several others on the SVG Developers discussion list soon echoed and demonstrated -- including Adobe's Ferraiolo -- there's more to this development than meets the eye for the average PDF author and user. But the implications could be considerable. After noting the SVG-related files that are installed as part of the Image Viewer plug-in, including the first public signs of version 4 of Adobe's SVG Viewer, and further examining some sample PDFs utilizing the new plug-in, one developer commented that there "seems to lurk some very tantalising prospects for dynamic digital media," based on the use of embedded SVG files within PDF presentations.

SVG XML PDF
Viewing a PDF in a text editor reveals the XML-encoded, embedded SVG file and the use of version 4 of Adobe's SVG Viewer.

Ferraiolo confirmed to Planet PDF that the current PDF Specification v.1.4 is now under revision to include technical information about the format's new "alternate presentations" capabilities for creating multimedia slideshows. He gave no release date for the future v.1.5 specification release, but acknowledged it's not pure coincidence that a major upgrade of Adobe Acrobat is also expected this year.

The Image Viewer plug-in provides dynamic, full-screen slideshow presentation capabilities to PDF, says Ferraiolo, allowing people to create a single PDF "to take full advantage simultaneously of both display and print media." Such a slideshow can support high-quality image presentation, and can include transitions, video, audio, and animations. The same file maintains the same high-quality results expected from PDF.

Ferraiolo explained further in a message to members of the SVG Developers group, who were eager for more details:

"Even though you have two different presentations (i.e., multimedia display vs. page-oriented printing), the actual photographs, video and audio content are only in the file once. Adobe Photoshop Album, which has just been announced as "the fast and easy way to organize and share your lifetime of photos," creates these cross-media PDF files via a wizard approach to album and slideshow creation. You can think of Image Viewer as an early attempt to cross-leverage Adobe's strengths to innovate simultaneously in the areas of Digital Imaging and electronic documents (Paper/Acrobat/PDF)."

He confirmed that the Image Viewer plug-in is based on Adobe's SVG technology base, which has been enhanced to integrate into Acrobat -- for full-screen slideshows -- and to support video, transitions and synchronized multimedia display of assets. Ferraiolo explained that the Photoshop Album authoring templates consist of collections of SVG page templates, all created by Adobe Illustrator 10.

Some within the SVG Developers community have been eager to dissect the source code in order to learn how to create a PDF slideshow file. A Perl script for embedding an SVG file inside a PDF and several example PDFs were posted to the group's discussion list. One PDF in particular -- an 11 MB file titled "SVG U.S. Open 2002" -- showcases many of the new PDF with SVG slideshow capabilities.

According to Ferraiolo, "with Acrobat Reader 5.1, all hardware pre-installs and full downloads include the Image Viewer plugin, and Photoshop Album content will prompt for Image Viewer downloads for Acrobat 5 products" when the plug-in is not present.

It doesn't seem like a great leap to imagine Adobe building its SVG technology into a future version of Acrobat.

In any case, the latest development seems to have quieted doubts within the vocal developers community about Adobe's intentions for SVG. Although not able to comment on what might happen with the Adobe SVG Viewer relative to future versions of Acrobat, Ferraiolo did say "that SVG is an important part of Adobe's product offerings today and will be in the future. XML is a very big thing."

Ferraiolo underscores that "nearly every one of Adobe's products leverages SVG in some way: Illustrator authors it, InDesign exports it, FrameMaker places it, GoLive manages it, Graphics Server applies dynamically-generated XML data to produce either modified SVG or rasters, and Document Server (just shipping this month) converts XSL-FO and SVG to PDF. And now Photoshop Album (just shipping this month) uses SVG master pages created in Illustrator for its authoring templates. Album and Acrobat are teaming to leverage SVG for multimedia slideshows. It seems to me that Adobe is leveraging SVG in many ways."

Soon we may even be able to -- once and for all -- bury the already outdated notion that PDF is a static document format. That's not to suggest that PDF currently isn't a feasible format for creating interactive documents, but despite evidence to the contrary there's still a widespread perception that its capabilities are limited. With the new embedded SVG possibilities, PDFs will be all the more able to sing and dance -- and to provide the music, too.


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