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PDF, Acrobat, Camelot and Interchange Postscript

15 Aug 2008 | | No Comment

I’ve been in the PDF business for at least 12 years now — back in the early days when Acrobat had just one toolbar (wow, that was a while ago) — and when you had to pay for a PDF reader — $50 it was. Now of course, you can’t count the number of free tools and online services to convert to PDF, view PDF, and there’s definitely no chance of counting the number of PDF files in existence.

In fact, so ubiquitious now, it’s even an ISO standard (ISO 32000-1, Document management – Portable Document Format – Part 1: PDF 1.7) — but where did it come from, what was its origins, and where is it heading in the future?

Well — you’ll find a reasonable starting point for the answer in a paper titled, “Camelot” penned by Dr. John Warnock, co-founder of Adobe Systems, in the spring of 1991.

Back in those days, Dr. Warnock called the system ‘Camelot’ and ‘Interchange Postscript (IPS)’, but I guess someone in the marketing department thought Acrobat and PDF was a more catchy name combination.

He said:

“Our vision for Camelot is to provide a collection of utilities, applications, and system software so that a corporation can effectively capture documents from any application, send electronic versions of these documents anywhere, and view and print these documents on any machines.”

and later…

“Imagine being able to send full text and graphics documents (newspapers, magazine articles, technical manuals etc.) over electronic mail distribution networks. These documents could be viewed on any machine and any selected document could be printed locally. This capability would truly change the way information is managed. “

As for the future of PDF, in 2003, I was lucky enough to talk with Dr. Warnock about the motivations behind creating PDF, and the ways he sees it could be used in areas that are yet untapped. Of particular note, he mentions that it could be used as a rock-solid archival format (and as happened with PDF/A).

Weeelll, I wish it was my idea — I guess I’ll just have to settle for writing about it…

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