Will you be ready for PDF 2.0?

Organisations will need to prepare now to exploit the enhanced workflow capabilities of PDF 2.0, the first major overhaul of the venerable Portable Document Format (PDF) standard, which is due out in early 2017.

Peter Wyatt, co-leader of the international body that is developing the PDF 2.0 standard, said that while the new standard is fully backwards-compatible, only those organisations that have the correct systems in place will be ready to exploit the new capabilities encapsulated in the updated format.

“PDF 2.0 is a significant update that will include a range of new features and fix many of the ambiguities that were present in the previously fast-tracked standard,” said Wyatt.

The Portable Document Format (PDF), created by Adobe in developed in the early 1990s, was released as an open international standard in 2008.

A BPI Network report called "Dealing With Document Deluge and Danger" states some 2.5 trillion PDFs are generated every year, and about 90 percent of survey respondents describe themselves and their co-workers as "PDF-dependent." PDF has become integral in the lives of many people and businesses. 

Since 2010, an International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Committee of volunteer industry experts, has been working on the next generation standard PDF 2.0.

Wyatt, a researcher and manager at Canon Information Systems Research Australia (CISRA), the Australian R&D Centre for Canon Inc., is Project Co-Leader of the group developing the PDF 2.0 standard, known as ISO 32000-2.

The committee is holding a one day forum in Sydney on November 25 to coincide with their next scheduled meeting.

“ISO 32000-2 PDF 2.0 is backwards compatible with PDF 1.x as well as having many sections rewritten with clearer, fully described and less ambiguous descriptions,” said Wyatt.

“Only technologies incompatible with the philosophy of open standardisation have been removed from PDF 2.0, with confusing features deprecated (e.g. where there were two ways of doing things) to make PDF 2.0 truly an open vendor neutral standard.

“This makes for a level playing field and thus will provide a choice of vendors for businesses, which must understand that ISO 32000-2 PDF 2.0 is a fully open, vendor neutral standard developed over 9 years.

“Many that I talk to in government seem aware of this, but there are many in business who still refer to PDF as a proprietary technology.”

To be able to assess the impact on their business processes, Wyatt recommends that all organisations should understand what questions to ask of their technology providers in relation to being ready for PDF 2.0.

Of particular interest should be the following:

  • new digital signature features;
  • Unicode passwords rather than ASCII;
  • the ability to attach metadata to individual elements such as charts in PDF documents;
  • richer  semantics of the content enabling intelligent access and reuse; and
  • better handling of digital rights management.

Some businesses may already be aware of the ISO 19005 series of standards for long-term preservation of documents - or known simply as PDF/A. PDF/A was initially published in 2005 to capture and preserve the static visual representation of page-based electronic documents over time.

“There is a misunderstood view of PDF/A from the past as simply the output of a process. Later PDF/A standards, driven by the needs of business, have evolved to allow PDF-A documents to be much richer, and PDF/A can now be used as inputs to other processes,” said Wyatt

“As an example, the German ZUGFeRD standard utilises PDF/A-3 (ISO 19005-3:2012) with embedded XML data to facilitate automated electronic invoicing – providing both a pleasing visual appearance for humans, and machine-readable data in a single file. This makes a fascinating case study of what is now possible.”

The upcoming Sydney meeting is the first time the ISO committee has been held in Australia. Experts travelling to the meeting will address related topics at PDF Day Australia, a one day conference being held on November 25 in Sydney.

The day will be divided into two streams, one addressing record-keeping and PDF/A, and the other looking at PDF accessibility features.

Blind software developers James Teh and Michael Curran from not-for-profit organisation NV Access, will be profiling their work to develop a free screen reader called NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access) for use with computers running on Windows. NVDA is highly capable with respect to PDF files, but it doesn’t yet support all aspects of tagged PDF

The organisers will be devoting any profits from PDF Day Australia to NV access to help them further develop NVDA’s support for accessible PDF.

PDF Day Australia will be held on November 25 from 8:45 am until 5:00 pm. Tickets are first-come-first-served, and cost $50. Additional information, including a link to registration, may be found at http://www.pdfa.org/event/pdf-day-australia-2016/.