Adobe to Contribute Entire PDF Specification to AIIM – ISO

The most interesting email in my in tray this morning came from Adobe's Duane Nickull, pointing me back to his blog  – and to the announcement that Adobe is contributing the entire PDF specification to the open standards process.  According to the Adobe press release (reproduced in full at the end of this post), the specification will be contributed to AIIM, which currently administers those component parts of the PDF specification that Adobe had previously made available for standardization.  When AIIM has completed the preparation work and its membership has adopted the new material, it will be submitted to ISO.

Why now?  According to Duane's blog:

PDF has reached a point in it’s maturity cycle where maintaining it in an open standards manner is the next logical step in evolution. Not only does this reinforce Adobe’s commitment to open standards (see also my earlier blog on the release of flash runtime code to the Tamarin open source project at Sourceforge), but it demonstrates that open standards and open source strategies are really becoming a mainstream concept in the software industry.

An FAQ that was also made available today by Adobe has this to say on the same subject:

PDF has evolved rapidly to include support for web technologies, rich media and XML, and Adobe has been committed to maintaining its backwards compatibility with the first versions of Acrobat and the free Adobe Reader. At the same time, because Adobe made the specification public and Adobe Reader freely available, PDF became ubiquitous. A community of developers arose who build PDF creation, viewing, and manipulation tools to meet a variety of business needs. At this point in the development of PDF it makes sense to extend its openness by working through a formal standards process. To date, Adobe has focused external standards efforts on specific industries and functions, and published the PDF specification for broader use. With the recent release of the 1.7 specification, it now makes sense to let the full specification serve as a unifying umbrella.

Regardless of the reason for the timing, this is very good news for those that use the PDF formats, and would like to have input into the future of those formats (they'll now be able to do so with respect to all, and not just some, of its parts).  And it's even better news for the future of document preservation, since both editable (ODF) as well as "lockable" (PDF) documents will now be fully under the control of international standard setting bodies.  Adobe deserves a vote of thanks for taking this last, major step to open what is, after all, its flagship product.

With the full specification in that state, the PDF formats will once and for all abandon the rather confusing, schizophrenic existence that they have maintained to date.  Over time, more and more (but not all) of the specification had been released by Adobe: PDF for Archive (PDF/A) and PDF for Exchange (PDF/X) are already ISO-adopted standards, and PDF for Engineering (PDF/E) and PDF for Universal Access (PDF/UA) are proposed standards, while PDF for Healthcare (PDF/H) is currently an AIIM proposed Best Practice. 

Still, there were reasons for concern: Adobe has licensed some ISVs (such as to enable “save to PDF” in their products – but not long ago refused to grant the same rights to Microsoft without a commitment by Microsoft to charge more for Office.   How can you know that your documents are safely archived in PDF, if a single vendor can decide who may, and who may not, have full use of the technology on acceptable terms?  With the entire specification subject to the standards process, the licensing undertakings that Adobe makes will need to be administered on a non-discriminatory basis.

Adobe’s decision also represents a ratification of the market’s clear signaling that it is no longer content to allow its data to be subject to the whims and caprices of vendors.  I believe that we are reaching a point in time where the market will not tolerate certain types of technology being anything other than open, once those technologies have become essential services.  The Internet and the Web have not only made all aspects of our life dependent on the IT infrastructure, but their open architectures have set expectations for how such services should be constructed and managed.

We’ve come a long way since ODF first emerged into the headlines in 2004.  Then, most people didn’t think about the long term availability of data.  Today, it’s become a matter of social, political, and most assuredly commercial significance. 

Other information:

A link to a “History of PDF Openness” is here.

For further blog entries on ODF, click here

subscribe to the free Consortium Standards Bulletin

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

AIIM to Facilitate ISO Standards Process for Leading Electronic Document Format

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Jan. 29, 2007 — Adobe Systems Incorporated (Nasdaq:ADBE) today announced that it intends to release the full Portable Document Format (PDF) 1.7 specification to AIIM, the Enterprise Content Management Association, for the purpose of publication by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

PDF has become a de facto global standard for more secure and dependable information exchange since Adobe published the complete PDF specification in 1993. Both government and private industry have come to rely on PDF for the volumes of electronic records that need to be more securely and reliably shared, managed, and in some cases preserved for generations. Since 1995 Adobe has participated in various working groups that develop technical specifications for publication by ISO and worked within the ISO process to deliver specialized subsets of PDF as standards for specific industries and functions. Today, PDF for Archive (PDF/A) and PDF for Exchange (PDF/X) are ISO standards, and PDF for Engineering (PDF/E) and PDF for Universal Access (PDF/UA) are proposed standards. Additionally, PDF for Healthcare (PDF/H) is an AIIM proposed Best Practice Guide. AIIM serves as the administrator for PDF/A, PDF/E, PDF/UA and PDF/H.

“Today’s announcement is the next logical step in the evolution of PDF from de facto standard to a formal, de jure standard,” said Kevin Lynch, senior vice president and chief software architect at Adobe. “By releasing the full PDF specification for ISO standardization, we are reinforcing our commitment to openness. As governments and organizations increasingly request open formats, maintenance of the PDF specification by an external and participatory organization will help continue to drive innovation and expand the rich PDF ecosystem that has evolved over the past 15 years.”

Adobe will release the full PDF 1.7 specification as defined in the PDF Reference Manual available at to AIIM for the purpose of submission to ISO. The joint committee formed under AIIM will identify issues to be addressed, as well as proposed solutions, and will develop a draft document that will then be presented to a Joint Working Group of ISO for development and approval as an International Standard. AIIM holds the secretariat for the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Technical Committee (TC) 171 and 171 SC2 for Document Management Applications, and is the administrator for the U.S. Technical Advisory Group to ISO TC 171 that represents the U.S. at international meetings.

“As the administrator for several specialized ISO standard subsets of PDF, AIIM is pleased to receive this proposal from Adobe,” said John Mancini, President, AIIM. “Over the last several years we have seen and in many cases helped facilitate a range of ongoing market and customer focused efforts around PDF. These efforts have grown so broadly that it now makes sense for Adobe to let the full specification serve as a unifying umbrella and submit it for approval under the formal ISO standards process.”

About AIIM

AIIM, the international authority on Enterprise Content Management (ECM), is leading the way to the understanding, adoption and use of ECM technologies. These technologies, tools and methods are used to capture, manage, store, preserve, and deliver content across an enterprise in support of business processes. As a non-profit association for more than 60 years, AIIM provides industry news and information, educational events and professional development, market analysis, industry standards development, publications, regional chapters, and executive networking. Complete information about the AIIM, is available on the Web at .

About Adobe Systems IncorporatedAdobe revolutionizes how the world engages with ideas and information – anytime, anywhere and through any medium. For more information, visit .

Comments (2)

  1. I assume this body is less permissive than ECMA, Will there be a true review of the standard before it passes the ISO ?

    Adobe does seem less evil than microsoft but i can imagine the day they are running out of money and need to squeeze users for some money. How many patents do they hold on this ?

    • Martin LaMonica, over at, has the answer to one of your questions (Geeklog isn’t letting me cut and paste right now, for some reason, so I can’t give you the long link).  Yes, there will be review cycles, at both AIIM and ISO.  The full process will take 1 – 3 years, according to Adobe.

      Regarding patents: I do know that Adobe has patents that relate to PDF, but I don’t know how many are relevant to the parts of the PDF spec that are now being made available for the first time.

        –  Andy

Comments are closed.