The interesting history (and fascinating future) of PDF software

By David Rand, VP of Marketing

PDF’s humble beginnings go back before the widespread use of the Internet. It started with a vision from Adobe Systems founder John Warnock.

In 1984, Warnock released Adobe PostScript. This was an independent page description language that enabled digital documents to retain their original appearance when printed. Adobe PostScript was cost-effective software that quickly became Adobe’s flagship product.

By the early 1990s, Adobe began making improvements in the scripting technology to increase efficiency across all platforms. By 1991, they released an enhanced version of PostScript named Carousel, then soon rebranded Carousel as PDF 1.0 which, over the years, became an international industry (ISO) standard in 2008.

In response to PDF limitations, Adobe introduced Acrobat (1993). This allowed users to create pdf files from any printable program. It also supported bookmarks and the ability to embed internal links. It was updated piecemeal over the next two decades. The latest launched in mid-2015.

While popular, the raps on Acrobat were mostly about high price, security flaws, slow performance, and frequent updates with no perceived value. Since PDF was a standard, not an Adobe proprietary technology, the door opened for other companies to compete with their pdf software.

PDF goes beyond its origins

Adobe may have started it, but the new competitors have made it better.

Foxit, for example, brought annotation to the “reader” category (free) of products, forcing Adobe to match it. Foxit became a main player in the PDF market by offering competitive PDF software at a much more affordable price. The fact that it continues to serve over 325 million users makes it an undisputed part of PDF’s heritage.

What’s more, in 2014, Google announced a joint collaboration with Foxit to release an open-source PDF library known as PDFium. This gave Chrome users full freedom to search, view, print, and form-fill pdf documents. PDFium also gave users access to applications like reader plug-ins and Adobe Flash, which were previously closed due to licensing reasons. Foxit technology is used by countless millions who don’t even know it!

The future of PDF

Innovation continues to move PDF forward. Take for example, the modern problem of document deluge and the ever-increasing need to share and collaborate in an era of content commerce. The demand for better connection to and control of the PDF documents that we rely on in our daily lives is a problem that ConnectedPDF™ will solve. Another extension to the PDF standard, it’s an innovation from Foxit that shows how the PDF chapter in the book of digital technology continues to be written.

2 thoughts on “The interesting history (and fascinating future) of PDF software

  1. John Boyden

    I just started using Foxit Reader and I’m really impressed. I normally use it in CMD mode to display thousands of data plots to check that they are OK . I wrote a program to use Foxit Reader to display these pictures in full screen and advance to the next one with a mouse click. The pictures start out as postscript files and I convert them to PDF using Adobe Acrobat (I bought a used copy). I tried PS2PDF which didn’t display the color very well. Using many of the PS2PDF options allowed the color to display correctly but it caused the PDF file to be twice as large as the Acrobat version which also displayed the color correctly. I’m wondering if Foxit makes a program that converts postscript to pdf as well as Acrobat at a lower cost. The pictures/data will be put up on the website below.. we’re still working on it.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *