The Portable Document Format at 20

Birthday cake for PDF.

The PDF Association’s birthday cake.

I’m traveling to Königswinter in Germany next week to celebrate 20 years of PDF with my friends and colleagues at the PDF Association’s Technical Conference Europe 2013. If you can’t make it to Königswinter, no worries – there’s a North American Technical Conference and PDF/A Day coming to Seattle in August!

Even without Adobe Systems’ massive Acrobat and LiveCycle products, PDF is a billion-dollar industry. Thousands of software companies make PDF files in one way or another. Literally millions of businesses worldwide have added some sort of PDF creation or processing functionality somewhere in their systems.

PDF’s not just a document format. If you’re using a Mac, for example, you are more-or-less looking at a PDF.

Like running water, PDF is the sort of technology that you’d notice most of all if it wasn’t there. Without PDF, how would you proof marketing materials before the print-run? How would you deliver a tax form electronically? How would you distribute documentation, or exchange signed contracts?

What format would you prefer to use for final-form documents you need to share?

June 15 is the official birthday of PDF; the date Adobe shipped Acrobat 1.0 back in 1993. I’ve written a small article on the PDF Association website to recognize that fact. I figured it was also time to update the running tally of PDF popularity vs. other file-formats online:

PDF files on the web compared to .DOC, .PPT, .XLS formats. PDF is consistently 80%. Source: Google Trends.

Likewise, we can see from Google Trends that PDF just keeps getting more and more popular. Here’s a Google Trends graph showing relative searches for PDF and HTML on Google. What does it mean? Not much, but it’s fun to look at.



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