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Overcoming ossification: advancing PDF’s imaging model 

Overcoming ossification requires everyone to agree on the strategy and specific technical changes affecting all stakeholders.
About the author: As CEO of the PDF Association and as an ISO Project Leader, Duff coordinates industry activities, represents industry stakeholders in a variety of settings and promotes the advancement and adoption of … Read more
Duff Johnson

Duff Johnson
July 31, 2023


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Highly successful technologies, especially those that become part of technical or business infrastructure can ossify, limiting their ability to accommodate and incorporate new technologies. The internet’s TCP (introduced in 1974) and UCP (introduced in 1980) protocols were established decades ago but remain dominant in today’s internet architecture. Over the years a variety of approaches have been deployed to address protocol ossification, but the problem persists.

Overcoming ossification requires everyone to come together and agree on the strategy and specific technical changes affecting all stakeholders.

Over the years PDF has added many new features. At relatively infrequent occasions it was necessary to go beyond adding features and address the fundamentals. In PDF’s case, the fundamentals included the imaging model of the page. 

Twenty years ago Adobe could decide - by itself - that PDF needed to significantly change (and not merely grow) because a single vendor controlled the specification. 

In 2023 the situation is very different as in 2008 PDF moved to a consensus-based approach involving many stakeholders and multiple vendors. Creation is ubiquitous, with thousands of independent PDF creators generating PDFs with an expanding range of content. Viewing has shifted to browsers, while an ever-growing array of specialized desktop, server and mobile PDF applications has emerged. 

Imaging technologies have also moved on, with dramatic developments in areas such as photography, HDR, spectral imaging, modern encoding formats such as JPEG-XL, font technologies, new graphics effects, compression filters and much more. Wider use of these new forms of content is prompting users to seek these new imaging capabilities directly in PDF.

The latest PDF specification is available at no-cost, making it even easier for the entire ecosystem to start discussing potential significant changes to the PDF imaging model.

The PDF Association’s Imaging Model TWG is currently evaluating proposals for new capabilities in a future version of PDF. October 17 represents a unique moment in the history of PDF for all stakeholders (members and non-members) to have their voices heard.

The all-day Symposium on Advancing the PDF Imaging Model will be held at the Omni Hotel in downtown San Francisco, October 17, 2023. The Symposium is open to all, and is free to attend in-person (only PDF Association members and invited speakers may attend remotely). The Symposium will be dedicated to open and frank discussions under the Chatham House Rule, and will cover:

  • Why is it time to move PDF onwards and upwards, and break the status-quo?
  • Lessons from the past: If, when & how to make breaking changes to PDF
  • Next generation color models including HDR & spectral imaging
  • Optimizing storage: modern image encodings, compression filters, and graphic effects
  • All things text, fonts and Unicode
  • The future of electronic documents: 3D, rich media, animation and more

There’s no cost to attend, but attendance is limited, so register today! If you want to attend remotely, that’s only possible for members, so maybe it’s time to join the PDF Association!

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