PDFs will outlive us all

Here’s an interesting piece on what could be quite a dull topic. As we’ve seen before, PDFs have a habit of catching people out, so it makes sense to learn a little more about this ubiquitous file format.

I like the fact that, given that link to Manafort and Trump, the “killer app” may have been tax forms, of all things.

Why the PDF is secretly the world’s most important file format
Basically, every year just before tax season, the IRS would mail out tax forms to hundreds of millions of people around the United States. This annual mailing was, during non-Census years, the largest annual mailing that the postal service had to deal with—around 110 million individual mailings annually, according a 1991 New York Times article. And the IRS, dealing with a complicated tax code, had to manage and deal with a wide variety of exceptions and differing forms, for both businesses and individual taxpayers.

I can’t begin to estimate what their printing and mailing costs were, each year.

“In terms of employee satisfaction alone, Acrobat pays for itself,” an IRS official told Adobe. “Add to that the benefits of easier document administration and less paper storage, and it’s clear that Acrobat and Adobe PDF provide real returns to the agency and the people we serve.”

Clearly there’s some fluff in that quote, but the IRS was very much a microcosm of the business world at large. The PDF, in a very short amount of time, became one of the most important ways business users shared documents.

And you must watch this Adobe Acrobat 1.0 promotional video, from 1993, perfectly describing office life before PDFs and the net. It looks like a parody at first, but I don’t think it is – that’s just how I remember it.

Introducing Adobe Acrobat 1.0

Author: Terry Madeley

I work with student data and enjoy reading about art and design, data, education and technology.

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