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30 Years Later The Idea Of The PDF Format Is Still Living

30 Years Later the Idea of the PDF Format is still living 1
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The term “PDF” is so ubiquitous these days that some people may have forgotten (or may never have known) that it stands for “Portable Document Format.” It was invented in the early nineties, and Adobe has spent the past 30 years trying to stay caught up with the changing of the times – and it turns out that they were more than up to the task.

By the time 2020 rolled around, the PDF should most likely have been rendered obsolete, as many other similar technologies have become over the past three decades. Instead, though, it received new updates that made it even more valuable – and usable – in today’s world of smartphones, tablets, and other devices.

The original idea behind the invention of the PDF was essentially to convert printed material to a digital format, as well as to make a file transferable between the different types of computers. In the 1990s, Windows, Mac, Unix, and MS DOS systems each had a different way of interpreting files, meaning that what could be easily read on one could not be read so easily (or perhaps even at all) on another.

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So, Adobe co-founder John Warnock and his team (codename: Camelot) set out to create something that could be readable by any computer, regardless of its operating system. The PDF file format was officially launched in 1993 and with it, users were able to see a document exactly the way the original author wanted them to see it no matter what computer they were using. According to Bob Wulff, Adobe’s Senior Vice President of Cloud Technology, “PDF allows the user to view a file precisely—down to the pixel, essentially, of what the author had intended.”

It took a while for the PDF to take off, but when it did, it really took off.

Once Adobe handed the format over to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in 2008, everyone around the world could make a PDF for free – and they did. The only problem was – technology was not done advancing.

PDFs became more and more commonly used to create and share documents, but they were soon rendered “outdated” in many ways. Computers changed, tablets and smartphones were invented, and screens were not the same as they once were. PDFs, on the other hand, remained a veritable photocopy of a document that didn’t adjust itself according to the screen size or format of the machine it was being viewed on. You had to zoom and scroll and just generally do a lot of finagling to read a document, which caused a lot of users a lot of frustration (and caused a lot of them to just give up).

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“When we first started, it was more about just getting paper to digital. That’s all we were focused on: making sure it looks as good on the screen as it looks on paper,” said Adobe Director of Digital Media Product Enablement, Lisa Croft. But as the 21st century rolled on, that wasn’t enough anymore. Users needed a format that could be reflowable and read easily on everything from the biggest laptop to the smallest smartphone, and Adobe was determined to provide it for them.

Smartphones in particular called for some serious PDF revamping. “Consuming content on mobile has long been a painful experience — especially if a document is long and wordy. In fact, new Adobe research shows that 65 percent of Americans find it frustrating; 45 percent stopped reading or didn’t even try; and 72 percent say they would work on their mobile device more if it were easier to read documents,” wrote Ashley Still, staff writer for Adobe’s blog.

Therefore, after 30 years of continuous research and experimenting to find a better way for people to experience the PDF, Adobe debuted some new and improved products and ideas, starting with “Liquid Mode” in 2020.

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Liquid Mode is Adobe’s response to the changes within the industry

With just the tap of a button, Liquid Mode can reformat text, tables, and images and resize them for the user’s specific screen. It can also produce a table of contents based on headers and other stylistic markers to make it even easier and quicker to navigate your document.

Liquid Mode works by incorporating Adobe’s artificial intelligence tool, Adobe Sensei, as well as machine learning technology to create a “flowable layout that mimics the HTML pages on the web.” Sections can be collapsed, you can easily click a button to return to the top of the document, and images can be zoomed in on, all without actually changing the PDF file itself. This makes it easy to read PDF files with ease even on handheld devices, which can save users a lot of time and hassle.

Adobe has also made it easier to digitally share official documents like contracts that must be signed, a practice that has only increased since the COVID-19 pandemic saw more and more people working remotely. The company is proud to say that documents built and signed with the products it has built are absolutely vital to many businesses and individuals – so vital, in fact, that usage of its document signing tool rose an incredible 175% in 2020 alone.

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As if that weren’t enough, the company also introduced a third aspect of its “PDF Improvement Plan,” which included a new way to store and share PDFs. Similar to Google Drive, Adobe’s Document Cloud allows users to upload PDFs (which can also be created by taking a photo with Adobe Scan) and edit them, store them, send them, and receive them there, all without having to download anything to their computer. One single, changeable shared document is then available on any computer or device for the user or users to work on at any time.

“This is fantastic news for companies whose employees are spread out across the globe, or who simply work from home on their own devices. It brings everyone together with one shared file, without all the complications the original PDF format may have caused them. “ – said Glenn Onassis, the editor of GadgetPreview.com.

With that said, it may have taken 30 years, but Adobe never stopped trying to improve its original product and to provide a better experience for its consumers. And now, thanks to innovative technology like Liquid Mode and Document Cloud, PDFs –and Adobe – have firmly secured a place for themselves in the future.

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