Adobe looks to have full PDF spec become ISO standard

It was spurred by a growing number of standards for PDF subsets

Adobe Systems Inc. is taking the first step toward having its entire Portable Document Format specification recognized as a global standard by the International Standards Organization (ISO).

The vendor today announced plans to submit the full PDF 1.7 specification to the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) with the hope that the enterprise content management nonprofit organization will recommend that ISO adopt it as an international standard.

The move was driven in part by a growing proliferation of ISO standards around different subsets of the PDF specification, said Sarah Rosenbaum, director of product management at Adobe. "It was becoming a bit of an alphabet soup dependent on industries or uses of the specification," she said.

PDF/Archive (PDF/A) and PDF/Exchange (PDF/X) are already approved ISO standards. Two more specifications are under consideration and likely to become standards in the next eight to 12 months: PDF for Engineering (PDF/E) and PDF for Universal Access (PDF/UA). In addition, the content management organization has proposed PDF for Healthcare (PDF/H) as a best practices guide.

Having PDF 1.7 as an ISO standard should make life easier for organizations that need to comply with government-mandated strategies to use the format. "The entire spec will be available as an umbrella standard," Rosenbaum said.

She doesn't see Adobe's decision as a response to the recent moves toward standardization recognition by the backers of dueling electronic document formats -- the OpenDocument Format (ODF) supported by Sun Microsystems Inc., IBM and open-source players such as OpenOffice.org vs. Microsoft Corp.'s Office Open XML. In May, the ISO approved ODF as an international standard and is considering whether to give the same recognition to Open XML.

Adobe's work to have PDF subsets approved as ISO standards dates back to 1995, when initial work on PDF/X began.

The process to gain ISO approval for PDF 1.7 will begin with the formation of a joint technical committee under the auspices of the AIIM, whose members will include Adobe, Microsoft and enterprise applications vendor SAP AG, Rosenbaum said. The group will flag any issues that need to be addressed in the specification and how to resolve those problems. AIIM will also produce a draft document that it will present to ISO for further development of PDF as an international standard. The entire process could take one to three years before PDF 1.7 becomes an ISO standard, and at any point in the proceedings, changes can be made to the specification, Rosenbaum added.

In the meantime, work won't stop on the other ISO PDF subset standards in development. Rosenbaum said she doesn't expect any change in the use of PDF/A or PDF/X.

Adobe began publishing the complete PDF specification back in 1993 and has tended to issue updates of the specification in its online PDF Reference Manual as it releases new versions of its Acrobat software. Third parties have been able to develop applications that read and write PDF files without having to use Adobe's software.

Sometimes users have been keen to see certain changes made to PDF, but then they have had to wait for the next Acrobat release to see them included in the specification. Having the entire PDF specification approved by a standards organization should help such changes appear publicly sooner, Rosenbaum said. "We hope people will create new applications and uses for PDF," she added.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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