PDF format up for ISO stamp

Adobe Systems Inc. has decided to make its Portable Document Format an open standard. The company announced it has submitted PDF to the International Organization for Standardization.

Large organizations, including government agencies, increasingly are using standards in their IT systems, said Sarah Rosenbaum, director of product management for Adobe. PDF, a multiplatform format, is widely used across government to digitize print documents and build electronic forms. As such, the company is responding to this demand for vendor-neutral standard.

Although Adobe has long published the PDF specifications which allow third-party vendors to write their own PDF readers and writers, this submission is different in that Adobe is “submitting the ownership [of] that specification to a standards body,” Rosenbaum said.

Adobe has asked the Association for Information and Image Management, the nonprofit industry body for document management, to shepherd the specification through the ISO approval process. Rosenbaum estimated that the yet-to-be-formed AIIM working group should take from one to three years to get PDF ratified.

This independent working group, not Adobe, will provide the final say on any changes to the format. “Adobe will participate in the working group, we will support the standards defined by the standards body,” Rosenbaum said.

A number of derivations of the PDF specification are already managed under standards groups, including PDF/x (a subset of PDF for the printing industry) and PDF/A,a version of PDF for long-term archival of documents.

“Adobe looked at all of this work going on to create these standards for different needs, all based on PDF, and decided the next logical extension would be to submit the entire PDF specification to a standards body,” according to Rosenbaum.

Adobe is the latest in a number of companies and industry bodies that have submitted their office document formats for ISO certification. Microsoft Corp. submitted its set of XML formats for office documents, called Open Office XML , to ISO. The open-source community’s Open Document Format received ISO certification earlier this year.

Although the present version of PDF, Version 1.7, has been submitted, Adobe has not announced whether future versions of PDF will undergo ISO certification as well. In December, Adobe unveiled a prototype of its potential next-generation PDF, one based entirely on the Extensible Markup Language.

“It is a very young file format, it needs quite a bit maturation,” Rosenbaum said, adding that this new version, if it is implemented, should continue to work with the present version of PDF. “Backward compatibility is essential. We’re not trying to break backward compatibility.”

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