This page provides an overview of the evolution of PDF, the Portable Document Format, and the matching Adobe Acrobat software. A separate page gives a more general overview of the history of prepress.
The paperless office. Remember that buzz word that never seems to vanish completely even though history has proven that the use of computers has until now only lead to an increase in the use of paper?
PDF started off on the dream of a paperless office, as the pet project of one of Adobe’s founders, John Warnock. Initially, it was an internal project at Adobe to create a file format so documents could be spread throughout the company and displayed on any computer using any operating system. In his paper which led to the development of PDF, John Warnock wrote: ‘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.’
Adobe already had two more-or-less fitting technologies: PostScript as a device and platform-independent technology to describe documents and Adobe Illustrator as an example of an application that ran on several platforms (OK, actually on two: Windows and Mac but that is 99 percent of all computers) and could open and visualize fairly simple PostScript files, even if they were created using other applications. The engineers at Adobe enhanced these two technologies and created both a new file format (PDF, which is really a kind of optimized PostScript) and a set of applications to create and visualize these files.
The first time Adobe actually talked about this technology was at a Seybold conference in San Jose in 1991. At that time, it was referred to as ‘IPS’ which stood for ‘Interchange PostScript.’ Version 1.0 of PDF was announced at Comdex Fall in 1992 where the technology won a ‘best of Comdex’ award. The tools to create and view PDF-files, Acrobat, were released in on 15 June 1993. This first version was of no use to the prepress community. It already featured internal links and bookmarks and fonts could be embedded but the only color space supported was RGB.
The original code name for what later became the Acrobat software was ‘Camelot’, later renamed to ‘Carousel’. That is why the file type of a PDF file on Macintosh was ‘CARO’.
Adobe asked a steep price for the tools to create PDF files. Acrobat Distiller was available in personal and network versions, priced at $695 and $2,495 respectively. You even had to pay 50 dollars for Acrobat Reader. This approach didn’t exactly turn PDF into a popular format overnight. Later on, Adobe dropped the price of Acrobat and launched the free version of Acrobat Reader.