Foxit takes a standard and destandardizes it. But are the benefits worth it?

The PDF format has revolutionized document sending, precisely because it offers standardization. Does cPDF devalue that proposition?

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This morning Foxit Software, a company that specializes in offering solutions around different use-cases for PDF document, announced that it is aiming to extend the value that the PDF brings to organizations with the launch of ConnectedPDF (cPDF) a new technology that aims to tack accountability, collaboration and productivity onto the humble but hugely valuable PDF.

Developed as an extension to the globally ubiquitous ISO PDF format, the cPDF augments the PDF with a wide range of cloud-delivered capabilities, including document locating and tracking, file update notifications, shared and synchronized reviews, remote file protection and data collection.

ConnectedPDF is a free "standard" that avoids having to create applications around the PDF, but rather tacks this functionality into the format itself. cPDF is available in beta today through a number of free web utilities and embedded into Foxit's own PDF Reader. More advanced features are available through the company's PDF editor (which somewhat reduces the value proposition of cPDF in my view.)

Foxit's perspective is that, while the PDF solved a very real problem around cross-platform and cross-device document viewing, there is far more that needs to be resolved to really solve broader document issues:

“It’s time for a new generation of digital documents,” said Karl De Abrew, cPDF evangelist and president of Foxit SDK. “The PDF standard was developed before the rise of the connected economy, and it has failed to adequately address some of the most vexing and costly problems people constantly face in dealing with documents. ConnectedPDF was built from the ground up to solve these challenges simply and cost effectively. ConnectedPDF enables a new Internet of Documents by embedding identity and intelligence into PDF documents. For the first time, tracking intelligence is innate to the document; it doesn’t rely on a monolithic, costly, hard-to-use system.”

While I can take or leave the "Internet of Documents" buzzword combination, much of what Abrew says does resonate with me. I use PDFs all the time and love the value they deliver.

But I also regularly need to resort to third party PDF tools -- for form filling and document signing or example. Being able to solve these issues within the format itself would cause angst for some third party vendors, but deliver very real value to users.

The statistics are pretty self-evident, but just in case, they weren't, Foxit has actually looked at these pain points and surveyed a selection of knowledge workers about their document usage. Findings being announced by Foxit today show that most professionals are frustrated and stymied by a wide range of challenges in working with documents. Chief among them are: wasted time and wasted money associated with searching for and recreating lost documents; risks of using the wrong version of documents; security and privacy concerns; and long waits for other people to review, revise and, approve documents.

The study, entitled "Dealing with Document Deluge & Danger," also finds that three-quarters of respondents see value in being able to track receipt, readership and location of PDF documents. Sponsored by Foxit, and therefore somewhat questionable in its findings but nonetheless an interesting data point, the study was conducted by the Business Performance Innovation (BPI) Network, an international executive change-advocacy group.

So, on to the key question, how does cPDF work and how does it impact upon existing document workflows and usage patterns?

According to Foxit, a cPDF file is a regular PDF file with an embedded unique identification code. Office documents and legacy PDFs can be converted into ConnectedPDFs with a simple click using a cPDF-enabled application or service, such as Foxit’s own applications and web services. The file is then registered in the cPDF cloud, which stores metadata to manage the document, including its ConnectedID, version information, view and change history, reviews, mark-ups, people connected to the document, related files and location.

Legacy PDF applications can display cPDFs as ordinary PDFs, although a message will guide users, if they choose, to a ConnectedAPP for more functionality. The cPDF can also be locked, with rights limited to specific users. Individuals without viewing or editing rights can request them at any time, and those rights can be granted or rescinded in real time. If the document is protected or being tracked, the recipient will get a message that cPDF must be opened by a ConnectedApp. They will get links to the ConnectedPDF website, where they can download free or advanced software that provides access.

MyPOV

The real value of the PDF is that it just works. No matter what platform, device, form factor or language, PDF is elegant in its simplicity.

cPDF unavoidably decreases that simplicity but Foxit has thought long and hard about how to embrace a degree of complexity without locking users out who demand continuing simplicity.

From this perspective, the introduction of cPDF is well done. But the key question here is whether cPDF gains momentum. That question is more complex and revolves around the various commercial tensions that those who work within the PDF ecosystem live with every day. Will other vendors embrace Foxit's format? History indicates that it is unlikely without the format gaining some neutral party validation.

cPDF is interesting, and it will be fascinating to watch how the industry welcomes its introduction.

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