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It’s not often that a document format generates affection, let alone amongst the world’s most elite executives, but so it is with the PDF. Originally Adobe’s proprietary format, PDFs have were made an open standard in 2008 and have been one of the most consistently ubiquitous file formats in modern business. In this article we explore why that is.
The PDF was first mentioned in a press conference in 1991-1992. The tools used to create and view PDFs (Adobe Acrobat) were released in 1993. It took a while before Adobe finally dropped their prices to something more affordable. Even the minor bridge programmes cost as much as $50 in the mid nineties, in an era when many people were just catching on to other home publishing packages. We’re coming up to the ten year anniversary of the document that has truly changed the way that many industries work.
At its inception, Portable Document Format was regarded as a medium for print. While even now it’s a format that produces some of the most reliable print output, PDF will also produce functioning web links, making it a popular medium on the web. Although not as fast or flexible as HTML pages, PDFs are guaranteed to appear in exactly the same format and proportion no matter what device they are viewed on.
This reliability also makes them excellent tools for presenting documents and case studies, the very lifeblood of most offices. Exchanging information in print, via email and on the web is a routine part of most days and the fact that some of those documents are being used to inform multi billion dollar decisions makes PDFs an incredibly important part of organisations’ infrastructure.
Once output, the PDF cannot be edited by recipients, making it secure from tampering or alteration by third party. This small additional level of security is valuable in a world where digital data can so easily be changed by users, leaving little trace and means that the format is quick, easy way of distributing information that cannot easily be changed.
Finally, because the tools for both creating and reading PDFs are free and arrive built into most operating systems, it’s a format that flourishes in a decade where even the most successful business has a keen eye on the bottom line. When something works so well and comes without a price tag, widespread adoption should be no great surprise. Big business and PDFs are a match that continues to bear considerable fruit.