PDF and DWF

Adobe’s decision to add the ISO feather to PDF’s cap is quite interesting. The PDF file format was already “open” and parts of the specification were already standardized under ISO. So why is Adobe going the extra mile by seeking ISO blessings for the entire specification?

In the ongoing file format war between PDF and DWF, the ISO feather may weigh quite heavily for Adobe. We live in a time where every other company claims that their software, file format or for that matter, almost anything they make, is the standard. This has resulted in the word standard being degraded to an adjective like best, exceptional, etc, when in fact, the word standard has profound meaning and significance. However, some companies have been careful enough to use the phrase de facto standard in their marketing efforts, which essentially means that something is so widely adopted that it almost is like the standard.

While Adobe was right in claiming PDF to be a de facto standard, it could not technically claim it to be a standard. But now, with ISO’s blessings, it will be able to.

A search at www.iso.org for PDF resulted in 11 documents of ISO standards. What’s more? The documents that the standards were published in were in PDF. I guess that’s enough proof for de facto standard.

On the other hand, A search for DWF gave me nothing.

In recent times, Adobe and Autodesk have taken every opportunity to tell the world how widely accepted their PDF and DWF file formats are. To some, this decision may seem like just another opportunity. However, I do not think Adobe did this just to make news.

It will be interesting to see Autodesk’s reaction to this.

  • Brian Mathews

    There’s another side to this. Consider that DWF is evolving to be entirely based on the XPS format.

    Some time ago Microsoft announced a fully XML based document publishing standard called XPS (the XML paper specification). It is a much more modern alternative to PDF. Adobe followed recently with an announcement that they too will be developing their own fully XML alternative to PDF. Why? Because PDF isn’t open enough since it isn’t XML.

    More recently Microsoft declared they will take XPS through the standards body route. This Adobe announcement about PDF in ISO also follows Microsoft. ISO is supposed to prevent duplicative standards and PDF’s standards efforts post-date SVG. Adobe’s proposed XML PDF replacement is SVG based. So in effect ISO should actually block PDF ISO in favor of the PDF replacement for two reasons: XML is more open and better serves the community, and second because SVG is an already accepted standard.

    PDF has always been an open specification, but has been based on a very complex binary format that takes 1000’s of pages to fully document (with lots of external reference documents). As such PDF is easy to “write” but very difficult to “read/render” accurately. In this way Adobe can claim openness but still have a significant barrier to competitors who want to manipulate PDF data (and thus compete for revenue or user access).

    Microsoft on the other hand developed XPS as a fully XML-based publishing format which easily integrates with other systems. XML is far easier to work with and is far more open in practice. The XPS XML is more clearly documented with more standard graphics primitives so that even competitors can easily read and render accurately. The proof of XPS openness-in-practice is the number of printer OEM’s that have rapidly included XPS support without needing Microsoft code or operating systems.

    So in your DWF vs. PDF analysis, you really should consider DWFx(XPS) vs. PDF. When you do you’ll see there’s more to the story.

  • Brian Mathews

    There’s another side to this. Consider that DWF is evolving to be entirely based on the XPS format.Some time ago Microsoft announced a fully XML based document publishing standard called XPS (the XML paper specification). It is a much more modern alternative to PDF. Adobe followed recently with an announcement that they too will be developing their own fully XML alternative to PDF. Why? Because PDF isn’t open enough since it isn’t XML.More recently Microsoft declared they will take XPS through the standards body route. This Adobe announcement about PDF in ISO also follows Microsoft. ISO is supposed to prevent duplicative standards and PDF’s standards efforts post-date SVG. Adobe’s proposed XML PDF replacement is SVG based. So in effect ISO should actually block PDF ISO in favor of the PDF replacement for two reasons: XML is more open and better serves the community, and second because SVG is an already accepted standard.PDF has always been an open specification, but has been based on a very complex binary format that takes 1000’s of pages to fully document (with lots of external reference documents). As such PDF is easy to “write” but very difficult to “read/render” accurately. In this way Adobe can claim openness but still have a significant barrier to competitors who want to manipulate PDF data (and thus compete for revenue or user access).Microsoft on the other hand developed XPS as a fully XML-based publishing format which easily integrates with other systems. XML is far easier to work with and is far more open in practice. The XPS XML is more clearly documented with more standard graphics primitives so that even competitors can easily read and render accurately. The proof of XPS openness-in-practice is the number of printer OEM’s that have rapidly included XPS support without needing Microsoft code or operating systems.So in your DWF vs. PDF analysis, you really should consider DWFx(XPS) vs. PDF. When you do you’ll see there’s more to the story.

  • Deelip Menezes

    Brian, instead of adding to the mess, why don’t Autodesk and Adobe work together and come up with a single unified file format and make that a standard. When will you guys realize that the only way to move forward is to move together and not against each other? Or is Autodesk guilty of the same things that you are accusing Adobe of doing (“compete for revenue and user access”)?

  • Deelip Menezes

    Brian, instead of adding to the mess, why don’t Autodesk and Adobe work together and come up with a single unified file format and make that a standard. When will you guys realize that the only way to move forward is to move together and not against each other? Or is Autodesk guilty of the same things that you are accusing Adobe of doing (“compete for revenue and user access”)?

  • David Harrison

    Deelip whilst it is a nice idea a single standard results in no vendor lock-in or marketing leverage which is just bad for both groups. Also competition and choice is a good thing when it comes to consumers and third party software vendors. Also I believe Brian is correct in his assertion that Adobe is only following Microsoft’s standardization lead and without this competition we would not be looking at an ISO standard. However I do see a few issue’s with Brian’s previous comment which I discuss here if you are interested.

  • David Harrison

    Deelip whilst it is a nice idea a single standard results in no vendor lock-in or marketing leverage which is just bad for both groups. Also competition and choice is a good thing when it comes to consumers and third party software vendors. Also I believe Brian is correct in his assertion that Adobe is only following Microsoft’s standardization lead and without this competition we would not be looking at an ISO standard. However I do see a few issue’s with Brian’s previous comment which I discuss here if you are interested.

  • Deelip Menezes

    Brian, I have to agree with David. Adobe’s XML format is meant to complement PDF, not replace it.

  • Deelip Menezes

    Brian, I have to agree with David. Adobe’s XML format is meant to complement PDF, not replace it.

  • Anonymous

    :: In the ongoing file format war between PDF and DWF

    Allow me to comment on this particular sentence. We (a medium sized, 300+ employee engineering company) tried to implement DWF. We pushed our CAD guys to use it, we tried getting engineers to review digital markups, we tried sending DWF to clients and partners…. and got nowhere. We recently invested in a site license of a commercial “DWG to PDF” software package (the one included in AutoCAD 2007 is pitiful) so we can concentrate on providing what our clients and partners want from us – a simple PDF document. I’m not taking sides here, it’s obvious that DWF offers benefits over PDF in some areas, but they have a long way to go to gain industry acceptance, regardless of the inflated number of download claims, etc.

  • Anonymous

    :: In the ongoing file format war between PDF and DWFAllow me to comment on this particular sentence. We (a medium sized, 300+ employee engineering company) tried to implement DWF. We pushed our CAD guys to use it, we tried getting engineers to review digital markups, we tried sending DWF to clients and partners…. and got nowhere. We recently invested in a site license of a commercial “DWG to PDF” software package (the one included in AutoCAD 2007 is pitiful) so we can concentrate on providing what our clients and partners want from us – a simple PDF document. I’m not taking sides here, it’s obvious that DWF offers benefits over PDF in some areas, but they have a long way to go to gain industry acceptance, regardless of the inflated number of download claims, etc.