Technologies in Demand: the History of the PDF Format Development

A document is rarely perfect since its creation. It usually needs to be processed and revised many times. However, when the main part of the work is finished, it is crucial to save the final version, protecting it from unauthorized edits. Unfortunately, the standard format used to create documents (Microsoft Word) cannot guarantee such a level of protection. Nevertheless, the possibility of creating an exact copy of the document exists.

Lady Working on Laptop

How Does the PDF Format Protect Your Files on Windows?

To secure the file from unauthorized access, people use the PDF format. One of the advantages of this format is its relevance for various electronic devices — an Internet browser, laptop, or phone — you will receive an exact copy of the original document. However, it doesn’t mean that it is impossible to split, merge or combine PDF files with the help of third-party software.

PDF (Portable Document Format) is not just a well-known and convenient format but also the only one that has been a standard since 2008. It was developed by the Adobe Systems team. The developers of the format set the task of creating such a format for displaying the document so that it opens and looks the same on any device.

The format is used for storing and exchanging text and graphic information on the network, for example, for sending the letterhead or posting a questionnaire on a website. This method is great for demonstrating the first text developments: it is easy to show and difficult to edit. All this makes it harder to steal intellectual property. Besides, the ideas of a “paperless office” are well appreciated by everyone who thinks about the environmental impact.

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How Was the PDF Format Invented?

You may find it interesting that when creating the PDF format, the developers aimed to make offices more eco-friendly by freeing them from the need to print documents. The creator of the PDF format is Adobe co-founder John Warnock. He tried to create a format that would be universal for storing data of any type — text, graphics, drawings, etc. and could correctly display it on any PC with any operating system.

Adobe had all the necessary resources for this: the developers used PostScript language and as many available programs to display the contents of various files. The predecessor of the modern PDF format was called IPS (Interchange PostScript). The first version of the PDF was released in 1992.

Unfortunately, the format was not very user-friendly — the files were large. Besides, the format did not support external hyperlinks, which prevented its use on the Internet. To open a PDF file, it was necessary to use a special format viewer, such as, for example, Acrobat Reader, which is still popular today. It was expensive for users to create and view PDF files — the Adobe Acrobat version cost $50. These factors prevented PDF from gaining popularity among users. Then the developers made a decisive commercial step from the marketing point of view: Acrobat Reader became free.

Since version 1.1, released in 1994, there have been significant functional improvements in the PDF format. It provided support for external links, document security, and the ability to create annotations. The first major user of the format was the US Federal Tax Service — the tax returns were sent to its clients in PDF format for filling out.

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Tax Services

In later versions of PDF, color reproduction was improved, which allowed the format to be used in the prepress mode. Since 1999, PDF has offered several solutions for corporate users, for example, the ability to sign the document or purchase tools for minor edits electronically.

Key Advantages of the File Format

Nowadays, creating a PDF file is not difficult. It is one of the formats used for scanning files and reading e-books. The main advantages of PDF are the following:

  1. Error-free display of content: no matter what device the PDF file is opened on, its content will exactly match the original;
  2. Reliability: you don’t have to worry about distributing the document. If it is protected with a password, then no one except a limited number of users will be able to open the file you created. Besides, it can be protected from unauthorized copying;
  3. Combining different information in one file, including graphics, audio, or 3D images;
  4. Keyword search function: if you have a long document in front of you, and you need to find the information you need quickly, you can do it in a few seconds;
  5. Zoom function: the document can be scaled up to 1600% without distorting the content;
  6. Perfect functionality for business documents, for example, contracts, where it is crucial to reproduce an exact copy of the original, including the signatures of the responsible persons.

Electronic docs, forms, or even e-books can be created without Adobe Acrobat and similar programs. First of all, using MS Office applications and their analogs. For example, you can use MS Word to create a new document and select the desired format when saving. As for web pages, they are also easy to convert into PDF just in the browser. If you need to split an HTML page into several PDF pages, you can use a virtual printer.

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In Conclusion

On April 16, 2021, the co-finder of Adobe Charles Geschke passed away in his house in Los Altos, California. Even though the history of the company has not been written yet, we believe that Mr. Geschke made a considerable impact on its development. He made his contribution to the development of the PDF format as well as giving numerous people the opportunity to exchange files in the secured format.

Even though many alternatives to this file format appeared, PDF remains a standard for the file exchange. A huge list of third-party software helps to simplify the work with this format, merging, splitting, and combining files. By the way, how often do you use PDF? Share your experience with us below.

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