Adobe Acrobat: 20 Years of Innovation
When Acrobat first came out, the world was a different place. This was 1993, when computers were just starting to make their way into people’s homes, when phones were still stuck on the walls, when mullets were still kind of cool. Oh, how things have changed. And yet, Acrobat has been solving problems for people every step of the way.
In the early days, the thing that Acrobat did that was so revolutionary may seem commonplace to us now: with the brand new Acrobat and PDF, it became possible to view a document exactly as intended both on screen and in print. Doug Hanna, a long-time Acrobat community expert and early user, sums up the kind of thing many people were thinking back in the early-mid 1990s:
“Cool! I could look at the output without having to print it. Nifty!”
Nifty is right! But for those of us who have never lived in a world without an inkjet printer sitting on our desks, this might not seem too groundbreaking. But imagine trying to print a document before technology existed to allow us to see on a monitor what was going to come out of the printer; nightmarish possibilities. Even so, as late as 1997, some print professionals were still skeptical that PDF files and Acrobat could survive in the print world; as Acrobat expert Jean-Renaud Boulay shared with us about an early experience: “I tried to explain to my boss the benefits of a PDF based workflow…’It has no future! We will always need XPress to produce films with the imagesetter,’ he claimed. This print shop is closed now.” Even the skeptics soon learned that PDF and Acrobat were here to stay.
Acrobat and PDF files quickly became the way to share information – whether you needed to print the file or not. And this is where things start to get even more interesting; the PDF file was envisioned as a file format that could be used by anyone to view content on just about any screen – no printing necessary, no differences in format for different operating systems. (We say again: Nifty!) As PDF files became more commonplace, printing a file was not the only way to share the content; you could just send the PDF file to someone to view on their own computer screen.
But the innovation didn’t stop there; far from it. Not only were we sharing content with PDF files, these same files allowed that content to be used digitally and efficiently with the added capability of OCR, or Optical Character Recognition. A PDF file, though it looked just like an image of text, could actually recognize that image as text, opening up a whole world of possibilities for PDF content. Duff Johnson reminisces:
“It was early 1995. Researching technology for a new business, I happened across Adobe’s Acrobat Capture 1.01; software to convert scanned pages into searchable PDF files. I’ll never forget the first time I swiped a mouse over a scanned page to highlight OCRed text behind the image. Wow! It was a true light-bulb moment. I realized this document format could bridge hundreds of years of hard-copy habits with Internet technologies.”
So it was: Acrobat Capture became another facet of Adobe Acrobat, which developed into the number one software for creating and working with PDF files: viewing your content, sharing it, printing it, or reusing and editing it all became possible and easy in a way no one could have imagined in the years before 1993. These days, we print documents less often because we have such easy access to screens wherever we go: PDF files are all over the Internet, on our computers, and with the relatively recent advent of the Adobe Reader mobile app, on our phones and tablets that never leave our pockets and purses. This free and easy use of content is facilitated in great part by the document format that made content accessible on any machine; John Warnock’s original vision for the PDF file conceives of a format that can “…capture documents from any application, send electronic versions of these documents anywhere, and view and print these documents on any machine.” Who could have known that twenty years later, this vision would continue to be the guiding force behind innovations that push electronic documents inexorably towards the future of information exchange?
PDF files have lifted us from the printed page to the screen, and from the screen to the cloud. It hasn’t always been simple, but everyone responsible for Adobe Acrobat – from the engineers and product team, to all the printing and document professionals who sent in (and still send in) requests and bugs, to the early adopters and experts who have spread the word and pushed the PDF format forward, to all of you who use PDF files every day – has been a part of that movement. We’re so grateful to each and every one of you for being a part of this movement, and we’re proud to keep moving forward for what we hope will be another two decades of innovation.