October 10, 2013 15

Hands holding paper files.If you’re not sure whether the world really needs an electronic model for hardcopy documents, read no further; you are too young to “get” this post. No seriously, I’m not going to argue with someone who thinks hardcopy is “so 20th century” – that person probably has yet to file a tax return.

So, leaving that question aside (for now, at least), what’s the right way to go about hardcopy in 2014? Is it PDF, or something else?

It’s PDF.

Reason 1: PDF has all the relevant features

  • PDF files are easy to create from any source with extremely accurate and predictable results. Word-processor, CAD, scanner and other sources may be brought together in a single document
  • Properly-created PDF files are entirely self-contained; they look the same on every viewer, irrespective of operating system.
  • Like paper, PDF files are hard (but not impossible) to alter. Unlike paper, PDF users may opt for advanced security and authentication.

Reason 2: PDF is ubiquitous, non-proprietary, internationally-standardized, technology

  • PDF became ISO 32000, the property of the international community, in 2008.
  • Thousands of vendors support the technology with their own PDF creation, editing and viewing software
  • Almost every desktop or mobile device can display PDF files.

Reason 3: PDF has no competition

  • TIFF, JPEG or PNG? These are merely images. There’s no comparison with PDF, which is a complete, full-featured, full-text searchable document format.
  • XPS? Back in 2008/2009 XPS was Microsoft’s attempt to create an alternative final-form document format. XPS has more-or-less flatlined since 2010.
  • DJVu? A glorified image format, like XPS, DjVu never really got going before it began to sink in 2010.
  • AFP? Still used in some mainframe environments, IBM missed their chance to turn AFP into a generic document format back in the early 1990s.
  • EPUB? The current darling of publishers, EPUB is (rightly) enjoying success with some books and periodicals. It’s not designed to be a general-purpose document format.

Can HTML documents serve as hardcopy? That’s a subject for a future post…