A Brief History of the PDF File

From education and graphics to publishing and finance, Adobe Systems, Inc. has produced software technologies that have been extremely valuable to users in any industry. Adobe's proprietary PDF file format is one such technology. It has become a de facto standard that caters to the way in which users interact with digital documents. Adobe developed technology that enables them to make, create, open, read and edit PDF files.

The Creation of the PDF File

The idea for the PDF was first conceived by John Warnock, whose vision for graphics and print technology ultimately led to the authoring of the device independent page description language that, when used to print up a document, would retain the formatting, graphics and fonts seen onscreen. This scripting language was released in 1984 as Adobe PostScript. As the latest in print technology, Adobe PostScript became a productive, cost-efficient, and as a result, widely-used software.

However, in the early 1990's, Adobe further developed the scripting technology to develop a file format that would perform in the same way, both digitally and quickly, across all systems and platforms. After it's debut as "Carousel" in 1991, the format was finally introduced as PDF 1.0 the following year.

Yet, users would need a supplementary set of applications to put such a format into full use. Thus, Adobe Acrobat and Acrobat Reader were developed and, in 1993, were released to the public along with the new PostScript leveraging technology, the PDF file format. The introduction of Adobe Acrobat and Acrobat Reader was crucial to Adobe's development, as end users would soon be able to create and make PDF documents from any printable program. In addition, they could open PDF files and read PDF files with the Adobe PDF file Reader. Editing PDF files would also become important.

The Development of Adobe Acrobat and the PDF File

Over time, newer features and innovations would further improve on the already revolutionizing PDF technology Adobe had created, and make it the ubiquitous format it is today.

The format began with simple features such as internal links, bookmarks, and RGB color spaces. These were then gradually improved upon by Acrobat 3.0 (PDF 1.2) in 1994, and supported features specific to the prepress industry, such as CMYK color spaces and OPI specifications.

With this third version of Acrobat, Adobe decided to distribute the Acrobat PDF file Reader free of charge, a marketing move that proved to be a good one. Within the next two years, users would be able to open and view a robust PDF file within their web browsers for free. Combined with the booming Internet, the proliferation of email and the free distribution of Adobe Reader, the PDF became a commercial success.

In 1999 and 2001, Adobe took further steps beyond simply being a software for creating PDF files, as both Acrobat 4.0 and Acrobat 5.0 expanded on functionalities for corporate users, including features for digital signatures and tools for minor PDF file editing. Adobe's Acrobat 6.0 version of 2003 aimed at being more user-friendly with a new GUI appearance, which provided a work space that was familiar to both Windows XP and Mac OS users alike. In that same year, the "Adobe Acrobat Reader" name was changed to the more simple "Adobe Reader".

With Acrobat 7.0 and 8.0 released in 2005 and 2006, Adobe further enhanced reviewing and collaboration features that solidified the PDF as an ideal format for creating, sharing and communicating digital information across systems.

As a result of this growing use of the PDF format, PDF subset standards had to be defined through the International Standards Organization (ISO) to unify and control documentation methods that were making use of the PDF format. The PDF/A subset was written for PDF archiving in 2005, and PDF/X, for preprint exchange, was developed. With ISO certification, Adobe Systems, Inc. will remain an influential and essential presence in the world of digital documentation.

As a file format that started as an offshoot of Post Script technology, the PDF has developed and evolved in concept, design and usability. Unquestionably, it is because of Adobe's vision that the PDF has now become a file format essential to document management. With the newest versions, users can do many things with this electronic paper format such as make and create PDF files from printable Windows applications in Adobe Acrobat, and even edit PDF files. Using the free Acrobat PDF file reader, users can open and read PDF documents.