Highlights from last week’s meetings in Salt Lake City.
Determining the future trajectory of a technology – if you’re interested in the technology and in the uses to which that technology is put – can be fascinating.
If your business or institution has a significant investment in electronic document technology, then you’ll probably find it useful to know what the Standards community is doing to improve the state of the art in PDF.
PDF Standards Week, May 2011
Twice a year, leading PDF technology developers and users including Adobe Systems, Microsoft, Boeing, the US Federal Courts and many others from around the world gather to discuss, debate and decide the future course of PDF technology.
The week of May 23, 2011, this community met in Salt Lake City, Utah, sponsored by the LDS church (who know a thing or two about imaging and archiving, by the way). The room was full! The gathering at the Salt Lake City Plaza Hotel included delegates from Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, South Africa, South Korea the UK and the US for four full days of meetings.
PDF/A (Archive) – ISO 19005
First up on Monday was PDF/A (ISO 19005), the Archive Standard for PDF. Originally developed at the request of the US Federal Courts, the Library of Congress and the National Archives and Records Administration, PDF/A provides a means of guaranteeing fully self-contained and reliable PDF, regardless of software changes.
On Monday, the Committee for PDF/A completed our work on part 3 of ISO 19005, which advanced to a “DIS”, or Draft International Standard. This part was created in response to institutional requests for a means of accommodating workflows that require the assurance that comes with PDF/A but which also need to associate XML files, source documents or other content with the archived document.
As such, part 3 is the same as part 2 with a single significant change: PDF/A-3 documents may include arbitrary attachments such as Word, image or database files.
PDF/E (Engineering) – ISO 24517
On Tuesday, the PDF/E (Engineering) Committee met to advance the cause of PDF intended specifically to meet the needs of the architecture, engineering and construction industries. We decided to initiate part 2 of the PDF/E Standard based on PDF/A-3 (see above), but including rich content of special interest to those users, including 3D and geospatial features, on the PDF page.
As I discussed in an article on the Future of PDF earlier this year, PDF/E offers significant potential for including the needs of the science community, many of whom want a richer platform in which to publish scientific literature. The Committee encourages interested parties to get in touch and contribute to the development of PDF/E-2 by expressing their desires in written comments or by attending the meetings to come.
PDF/UA (Universal Accessibility) – ISO 14289
While it’s not a long document, the PDF/UA Standard has been in development since 2004. PDF accessibility is a challenging subject, but PDF/UA is now almost ready for its prime-time debut.
PDF/UA is eagerly awaited in the accessible technology (AT) community, in government and by disabled users everywhere. While it has been possible to make PDF files readable by disabled users since 2000, many developers have avoided this technically complex topic due to the lack of standardization and less-than-ideal support in the AT developer community.
Disabled users aren’t the only ones to benefit from PDF/UA. The standard details the norms for correctly tagging a document’s contents to identify logical order and semantics, enhancing the user experience for any process that involves extracting text and graphics from the page. The end-result benefits search-engines, text-to-speech devices, reflow on mobile devices, and more.
PDF/UA-1 is now off to its second Draft International Standard. The Committee does not expect any significant changes prior to publication, hopefully later this year.
PDF – ISO 32000
While PDF itself was invented by Adobe Systems, the document describing PDF in technical detail (the PDF Reference) was turned over to the international community in 2008. It’s now managed by the volunteers of ISO 32000, Adobe and Appligent Document Solutions among them.
ISO 32000-2 will move PDF from version 1.7 to version 2.0, and the comments and suggestions have come in thick and fast. In Salt Lake City alone, the Committee debated and agreed on more than 150 proposed changes to PDF offered by a wide variety of companies. The Committee also agreed to study the idea of including a model for HTML-based navigators in PDF in addition to Adobe’s proposed Flash-based model.
There are many other changes to PDF proposed for ISO 32000-2. Interested parties, especially software developers, should join the PDF/A Competence Center which makes detailed technical summaries available to members of its Technical Working Group.
A change in project leadership
Salt Lake City heralded another significant change in the management of PDF technology. Dr. Jim King, Senior Principal Computer Scientist at Adobe Systems, and a leading light in the invention, development and establishment of PDF as the world’s electronic document format, retired from his position as Project Leader for ISO 32000 at the close of the Salt Lake City meeting. Dr. King has provided crucial institutional knowledge and deep technical experience throughout his chairmanship of ISO 32000. The Committee (and the community as a whole) is indebted to him forever in this regard.
Following his resignation, the Committee elected two industry figures to serve as co-Project Leaders for ISO 32000: Cherie Ekholm from Microsoft and yours truly, Duff Johnson of Appligent Document Solutions.
We can only hope to do as well as Jim King in our stewardship of the document that defines PDF and in encouraging the participation of the rest of the PDF community.
Where do these Standards originate?
International Standards are created, developed and managed by committees made up of industry experts whose time is volunteered by their respective companies for the purpose.
The objective in each case is to establish or further develop a set of norms for an industry or a technology. Conforming to these norms allows each vendor’s products and services to interoperate with others. Organizations and individual consumers alike benefit from these norms in many ways, including enhanced quality and functionality.
To get involved in the development of International Standards for PDF, contact Betsy Fanning, Standards Director at AIIM, the organization accredited by ANSI to manage standards development in this area.
It should be noted that two other standards, PDF/X and PDF/VT, are managed by a different ISO Technical Committee (TC 130), and were not discussed in Salt Lake City.
PDF Standards & Appligent Document Solutions
Appligent Document Solutions’ CEO and CTO are both heavily involved in PDF Standards in order to maintain our products and knowledge at the cutting-edge of the industry. Our server software products all comply with ISO 32000-1, the current standard for PDF, and Callas’s pdfaPilot is the most advanced server-based PDF/A solution available.
by Duff Johnson