The Adobe 3D PDF Train Wreck

Once upon a time at Adobe, some wise guy high up decided to get into Manufacturing. And everyone else around him thought that it was a good idea. So they decided to add 3D to PDF. To further this goal they went ahead and bought a French company called TTF which had two significant pieces of technology that they were interested in – PRC and 3D translators. They were interested in PRC because it would allow PDF to hold precise geometry (Brep) and the 3D translators would allow users of Acrobat to import CAD file formats from various sources and publish 3D PDF files from them.

The business plan had two parts. Firstly, sell Acrobat to people as an end user product so that they could publish 3D PDF files from the data that they already had. And secondly, get the CAD vendors to license their 3D PDF SDK so that they could add 3D PDF publishing capability to their CAD systems. The first succeeded to an extent. The second did not. Obviously because CAD vendors want users to publish their 3D content to their own 3D formats (DWF, JT, etc.). But then, like I have said time and again on this blog, Adobe  never really understood CAD in the first place. So time moved on and Adobe found that PDF did not become the standard 3D format in Manufacturing. They also learned that taking PDF down the road of an ISO standard did not automatically make it the industry standard.

Then one day one wise guy high up in Adobe decided to buy a company called Omniture, a web analytics company, for 1.8 billion dollars. And everyone else around him thought that it was a good idea. The big wigs at Adobe decided that the way forward for Adobe was in getting into things like web analytics and stuff. They came to the conclusion that this vertical market stuff (Manufacturing, AEC, etc.) wasn’t working out and decided to put an end to it and concentrate on what they do best – develop and sell low cost, high volume products that appeal to mass markets.

They decided to go about doing this by finding a partner in each vertical industry and outsourcing or handing over all development to them. For Manufacturing Adobe chose Tech Soft 3D. Adobe sold the 3D translator part of the technology that they had acquired from TTF to Tech Soft 3D and handed over the team in Lyon, France, as well. But it kept the 3D PDF library and PRC part of the technology because whether they liked  it or not, 3D PDF had now become an integral part of PDF and hence Acrobat including the free Reader. They handed out the development and maintenance of the 3D PDF library to Tech Soft 3D, which I believe was a wise decision, since going by history, Adobe wouldn’t really know what to do with that kind of stuff.

So by selling one part and outsourcing the development of the other Adobe cleansed themselves of the technology that they had acquired from TTF. But there was one problem – Adobe Acrobat Pro Extended, the top of the line version of Acrobat that had the 3D translators and shipped with the 3D PDF library to publish 3D PDF files. Adobe decided to solve the problem by killing it. Yes, they simply went ahead and murdered Acrobat Pro Extended. That brought about another problem –  the customers who had purchased Acrobat Pro Extended. Since killing them wasn’t really an option, Adobe decided to do the next best thing – send them off to Tech Soft 3D. That, in turn, brought about another problem. Tech Soft 3D is a component vendor. They do not develop and sell end user software because they do not want to compete with their own customers. So they decided to solve that problem by creating another company called Tetra 4D as a joint venture with a former Adobe employee called Greg Baker and Craig Trudgeon. I worked closely with Greg while he was at Adobe to develop our 10 Acrobat data exchange plug-ins.

So now since Acrobat Pro Extended 10 does not exist, customers will need to downgrade to Acrobat Pro 10 and then buy a “3D PDF enabler”, if I may use that term, called 3D PDF Converter from Tetra 4D, which is basically a plug-in for Acrobat Pro. It will not work on Acrobat Standard. Adobe has already released Acrobat 10 and Tetra 4D is yet to release 3D PDF Converter. Their web site says that the product will be lauched in November 2010. So I am expecting it to be released any time now.

Which brings me to my big problem. You see, when Tetra 4D releases 3D PDF Converter it will not come with the 3D PDF library which is required for my Acrobat plug-ins work. So if my existing Acrobat Pro Extended 9 customers downgrade to Acrobat Pro 10 and buy 3D PDF Converter, they will not be able to load and use my plug-ins. And it gets better. I sell my products with or without subscription. So now I find myself in a situation wherein I have customers who are on subscription and have essentially already paid for an upgrade that I cannot supply. Now isn’t that fantastic?

I asked Tech Soft 3D when they were planning on adding the 3D PDF library to 3D PDF Converter. They told me they would look into it in March 2011 when they were planning on updating some other technology. As you can imagine, I am pissed. Of course, Tech Soft 3D would like it if I licensed the 3D PDF library from them directly instead of waiting for it to show up in 3D PDF Converter. Obviously that is not an option for me because I didn’t price my products and subscription by factoring royalties to anyone. The 3D PDF library came by default with Acrobat Pro Extended. Who knew that Adobe would simply rip it out and throw it away.

So this is a humble request going to my Acrobat Pro Extended customers: PLEASE DO NOT DOWNGRADE TO ACROBAT PRO 10. We will not be able to support you.

This is a glowing example of how people at the top make sweeping decisions without having a freaking clue about the ramifications of their actions downstream. As far as Adobe is concerned 3D PDF is now not their problem anymore. Sure they will still claim to be committed to continuing with PDF as an ISO standard and all that jazz. But clearly, they want absolutely nothing to do with Manufacturing or they wouldn’t have killed Acrobat Pro Extended. The only thing I think they will be interested in are the royalty checks that they will receive from Tetra 4D and Tech Soft 3D. As far as Adobe’s vision for 3D PDF is concerned, I don’t believe there is any left. And I wonder how much of an interest Tech Soft 3D has in furthering 3D PDF.

This is high level corporate intelligence at it best. Bah! I’m outta here.

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  • Tim Neumann

    What worries me is where else is this “corporate intelligence” lurking
    in the cad realm?

  • ron

    Only people experienced in the ways of CAD can make CAD. This reminds me of diagramming company Visio’s misguided foray into CAD a decade earlier.

    To do CAD, you gotta know CAD; it’s not just another graphics application.

  • Bernard

    Nice rant. Like the vast majority of the tripe that you write, it has very little actual information and even less business value. Good business owners try to maintain some sort of professionalism when discussing their products or future. Good to see you haven’t fallen for that type of thing.

    • I wonder which part of my post did you not get. Hmmm… maybe all of it. 😉

    • Anand

      Deelip’s professionalism is towards his customers, which is the whole point of this article. He is not making excuses for Adobe’s stupidity which is what you are suggesting that he should have done. Also Deelip is part of the media and part of his responsibility there is to expose this kind of nonsense, which has has done well in the past and I hope will continue to do in the future. He didn’t issue a Sycode press release. he wrote this on his CAD media blog. Understand the difference.

      Very little information and even lesser business value? I think you know to read english, but i don’t think you can understand it that well.

      • Anand, I can see where Bernard is coming from. But you hit the nail on the head. If this was a SYCODE press release, then it would be a different matter altogether.

        I need to balance my role a media with the fact that I am a partner with all the CAD vendors that I write about as media. Truth be told, I do not always write about everything that I know for many reasons, the most common being an NDA that I have signed.

        And as far as making excuses for a partner’s stupidity, I don’t believe that was included in any partner agreement that I signed till date. I prefer to let them make their own excuses. 😉

        • Jonathan

          Looks like you get it both ways, Deelip. If you are soft on vendors people call you their mouthpiece. If you are hard on them, they call you a bad businessman. I don’t envy you. 🙂

          • LOL! I do get it both ways. Heads you win, tails I lose. I guess if I sat in the middle people would find my writings of little use. 😉

  • Gazzzz

    You should be surprised as Acrobat Ex 9 has import features removed that were inherent in Acrobat 3D (Acro 8) – why does this latest backflip surprise you?

    • Rajrajendiran1991


  • Deelip, software developer management, world wide, are amongst the most selfishly shortsighted individuals when they get tired or discouraged in the market place. You should not be surprised by the history/action you have outlined, they are just a series of business decisions not unlike ones you would make, for the same reasons.

  • Nainar

    Why do I get a deja vu? We, at Think3 were in the same situation two years back when we picked Adobe Pro Extended and I had worked with the people mentioned here to integrate the Adobe Pro Extended, both to read other CAD Data as well as create PDF files for viewing. We thought we hit one solution to two problems we faced. And then came the news outlined by Deelip. Result? The Think3 product using Adobe Pro Extended libraries did not see the market, despite we spending time to develop it. And we were customers of TTF too for donkey’s years, with many customers using it before Adobe acquired them. Once acquired, TTF said they will not be doing any further updates and we have to start using Adobe Pro Extended libraries. Customers have to live with that version for ever.

    It is a problem that is faced by end product companies, on how to bind their component service providers to some contract. The wisest with deep deep pockets cover their bases by having the components developed by themselves.


  • DF

    I’ve heard from Bentley employees that it was after their company’s initial approach that Adobe got into “3D PDF” (MicroStation to this day can output 3D PDFs). As a Bentley customer, this leaves me a little concerned for what is genuinely useful functionality.

    • Thomas

      As a Bentley Architecture user I frequently output “3d-pdfs” for evaluating design myself, send to collaborating consultants AND to clients. As the files are small and can be opened and easily! navigated with Acrobat Reader it is a wonderful tool for communicating 3d-content.

      And everybody has Acrobat Reader! 

  • very good

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  • Guest

    Sadly I too am a Microstation user and have noticed that output to 3d pdf is acting very strange lately. Now I have come across this blog i see the reason. Basically pdf should not handle 3d anymore. I will have to find a new solution.