2008: Acrobat 9 sticks to PDF 1.7 ‘Adobe Extension Level 3′
Since the ISO-organisation now controls the PDF-standard, Adobe couldn’t introduce a new PDF 1.8 file format with the release of Acrobat 9, code named ‘Nova’ in June 2008. The PDF file format is pretty flexible however and it allows for the use of extensions – data that might have value to a certain application but that other software can simply ignore. Acrobat 9 PDF files are enhanced with such extensions, called Adobe Extension Level 3. This extension can be used to embed geospatial data in a PDF file, something that is useful for maps. At the moment of writing, the Acrobat 9 SDK hadn’t been released yet so I don’t know which other features Extension Level 3 has.
It seems logical that Adobe will keep adding new features to PDF using such extensions, simply to add extra value to new releases of Acrobat. They may propose that some of them make it into new ISO-certified PDF releases. Of course other companies can do the same or may request changes to Adobe’s proposals. The PDF standard will continue to evolve but since more companies & organizations can now get involved and committees by nature work much slower, there won’t be a new PDF version every 18 months.
I haven’t been using Acrobat 9 long yet but according to sources, such as this thread on the b4print forums, the Professional version is an interesting product for prepress professionals:
- Acrobat 9 Professional offers good support for industry standards such as PDF/X-4 and GWG.
- The application allows you to embed multiple files and data types into a Portfolio, which is similar to a ZIP file. It is unclear if this way of bundling data will become popular.
- For a whole slew of common issues, there is no longer a need to revert to plug-ins as Acrobat 9 itself has the tools on board. A few examples:
- The Touch Up Text Tool now supports word wrap (even though using it is still a hit-and-miss affair).
- The Crop Tool lets you define the ArtBox, BleedBox, CropBox or TrimBox.
- The ‘Convert Colors’ tool is more powerful and faster. It also seems to have less issues with transparent objects.
- Using the ‘Examine Document’ menu option you can delete all objects that are completely outside the page are (CropBox) or trim area (TrimBox).
- ‘Output preview’ can simulate the effect of varying press conditions.
- The application seems to run faster on Macs.
- One small thing to keep in mind: ‘Overprint Preview’ is set for ‘Only for PDF/x files’ as default. Changing this to ‘Always’ is more reliable but slows down the application. Check out this blog for more background information.
- Of course there are also a number of features that target other markets besides print. Support for AES-256 encryption is an example of this.
2010: Acrobat X & PDF/VT
Acrobat X started shipping in late 2010.
- The Acrobat and Reader user interface went through a major overhaul.
- The Portfolio function is been greatly extended, allowing users to embed audio, video and other rich media files in a PDF Portfolio.
- Given all the security flaws that showed up in previous releases of Acrobat and Reader, Adobe implemented a Protected Mode for version 10. This ‘sandboxing’ technique should minimize the risk of opening infected PDF files by accessing them in an application that is confined to its own private execution environment.
- Adobe Acrobat X and Reader X remain 32 bit applications but running them on 64 bit systems is supported.
- The document comparison function has been enhanced, making it easier to import multiple versions of the same PDF and discover the differences.
- One odd change is that Adobe now markets a version called Acrobat X Suite which includes Photoshop CS5.
As far as I know Adobe did not create any Acrobat X-specific proprietary extensions for the PDF file format. In 2009 they did publish the specs of PDF 1.7 extensionlevel 5 – some new PDF functions that were used in Acrobat 9.1.
In the fall of 2010 the PDF/VT standard was published as an official ISO standard: ISO 16612-2. PDF/VT is a special flavor of the PDF file format that is specifically geared towards variable data printing (VDP) in a variety of environments, from desktop printing to digital production presses. The V and T in PDF/VT actually stand for Variable and Transactional.
2012: Acrobat XI
In October 2012 Adobe started shipping Acrobat XI. This release focused on PDF editing and integrated cloud services. Redesigned Edit Text and Images tools let users update text directly in PDF, automatically wrap paragraph text, search and replace words in a PDF file, and crop, adjust, or replace images. Files can be exported to Microsoft PowerPoint. The update also added improved support for tablets and better interoperability with Windows 7 and 8.
The future of PDF
The ISO-committee is currently working on the specifications of PDF 2.0. This standard is expected to be released in 2013. It will apparently be a minor refinement of the existing PDF 1.7 specifications. I have been told that PDF 2.0 will not incorporate any of the ideas from Mars. Mars was an Adobe project which focused on using XML as the internal data format within PDF documents. The main advantage of using XML as the internal format for PDF files would be that programmers would be able to use the incredible number of XML-tools and technologies that are available on the market to create or process PDF files.