The PDF file format is so common that many of us just take it for granted. We use it almost every day; we love how easy it is to open, send and save. Whenever we find an e-book, we prefer the PDF version; we use it in school for scientific papers, studies, and essays. Graphics and artwork are easily presented in PDF format. It is everywhere and, quite frankly, we could not imagine the digital world without this all-too-common type of file extension.
However, what makes the PDF format so popular? How come it is so widely used and why do we prefer to convert documents, spreadsheets, and graphics into PDF? How did it all start?
A straightforward answer to most of these questions is: PDF is primarily electronic paper. Not many actually “love” PDFs, but we all use them and need them. When we see a PDF file, we know that it is the final form of a document, spreadsheet, or illustration. It is the last delivery of an electronic document that we can trust, download or upload, share and print.
Nowadays, anyone who has a computer is expected to know about and use PDFs. They represent the physical act of publishing, and it is the standard electronic document format for home users, businesses, and government or public organizations every day. Just like paper, PDFs are universally available and can support any information: texts, images, drawings, tables, and spreadsheets. They can be used for legal briefs, bills, sheet music, construction drawings, articles and any other information imaginable.
So what does a PDF offer when compared to other file formats?
PDF, an abbreviation of Portable Document File, has some qualities which have contributed tremendously to its success, right after its launch, in 1993. Let’s take a look at some of them:
- Ease of use
When it was developed in the early 1990s by Adobe, the software engineers had one thing in mind: to create an easy to use document sharing extension which could be used on any computer, regardless of the operating system available on the machine. This had to include simple text formatting and inline images but had to be usable across all platforms. Initially, the adoption of this new extension was rather slow, mainly because the software suite offered by Adobe was not free, and there was no support for hyperlinks. However, after the release of the second version, called Adobe PDF 2.0, the program was available free of charge, and its popularity grew spectacularly, quickly becoming the de facto standard for electronic documents.
The ease of use stems directly from its simple design. Every document, whether it is only text, or it features images, line drawings, charts, tables, spreadsheets or graphics, can be rendered as a PDF file. Then, they can be intermixed with any other PDF page in the same file using Adobe free file converters and readers, as well as numerous other freely available platforms. PDF reading can be done on any computer, smartphone, or mobile device, and can be printed by almost all printers free of charge.
PDFs also solved the common problem posed by file conversions and the multiple types of file extensions. For instance, CAD files (*.dwg – like engineering drawings) are easy to read on all machines thanks to the PDF format. The same goes for a plethora of other extensions, including *.rtf, *.psd, *.cdr or *.eps. The PDF is considered the lingua franca of all work produced with computers. Everyone knows how to read a PDF, create a PDF and, more importantly, it is free.
Security is a major feature of PDF files, mainly because they were designed from the beginning for limited distribution. PDF creation software allows users to add password protection to their records and attach protected documents and other attachments. A more secure encryption method uses APCrypt extensions that support 256-bit AES encryption for particular files.
PDFs can use digital signatures, certificates, and other authentication features to make archiving easier. The digital signature mechanism respects the ISO 32000-1 regulation and is freely available for any developer. This makes the PDF format easy to modify and adapt to any need, making it an excellent tool for organizations and businesses that rely on standardized documents and want to avoid document tampering.
Users with disabilities are helped by the PDF’s semantics feature, allowing Assistive Technologies (AT) to read documents. PDF documents can be tagged to provide a good reading and navigating experience. Scanned documents, drawings, texts, multilingual content, and any other type of information can be read and structured in order to increase accessibility for users with disabilities.
Semantics is a critical aspect that is used by government and public organizations which have strict regulations regarding the accessibility to information for all people. Businesses also strive to make their documents accessible to users with disabilities, and the PDF format is essential in this process.
The writer of this article, Flaviu Mircea, is a tech blogger who is always up to date on the latest technologies. He recognizes that some are falling behind, particularly offices still needing to convert to paperless, and recommends such offices turn to PDF Scanning Software from companies like Lucion. You can learn more about Flaviu on Google+.