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KURT FOSS, Planet PDF Editor: Thanks for making time to talk with Planet PDF on the verge of Adobe’s announcement of Acrobat 7, slated to begin shipping by late this year. We realize this is a hectic time, so let’s dive right in by first sharing with our global audience a bit about your PDF-related background and expertise. I recall you were part of the Acrobat team in the very early days, then left the company for a while — several iterations of the product and technology — before returning to your current role in time to work on the just-announced Acrobat 7 family of products. Tell us a little about your involvement in those pioneering days of Acrobat and PDF, and about your eventual departure from and return to Adobe.
PAM DEZIEL, Director of Marketing for Acrobat/desktop, Adobe Systems, Inc.: I started at Adobe in 1993, shortly after the Mac and Windows versions of Acrobat 1.0 had shipped, and took on the responsibility of Senior Product Marketing Manager initially for the UNIX versions and the Reader product. I worked on Acrobat versions 1, 2 and 3. I moved from the Acrobat to a similar position with our Consumer Products Division for about a year and then about another year and a half as the senior manager for the Adobe Solutions Network (ASN). I left Adobe in late 1998 when I got an opportunity to go to work for Palm. Inc. I was completely in love with that product and spent four-plus years there, riding en entire industry up and back down — through the spinout, the split of Palm and Palm Source. From there I went briefly to a small wireless software company before Adobe lured me back here late last summer with the promise there was a lot more going on here with Acrobat than when I left.
FOSS: When you returned to Adobe after several years away, what surprised you about what was going on, or what did you discover had changed regarding the evolution and current state of PDF?
DEZIEL: I wasn’t really surprised — the original team knew that the promise of Acrobat would eventually be delivered. I think Adobe has made tremendous progress in the last several years in driving the Acrobat business, in driving PDF as a standard and now beginning to drive our server business into the enterprise. It’s been exciting to watch things play out in much the way we had envisioned that they might.
FOSS: Before we talk a little about the next incarnation — Acrobat 7.0 — that Adobe has just announced and which is slated to ship by year’s end, let’s pause for a personal reflection. By the time you left Adobe after version 3, Acrobat was by then on pretty solid footing, both within the company and among its ever-growing user base.
But those of us who were early advocates for and fans of the technology remember that during the 1.0 and 2.0 eras, the future of Acrobat/PDF was not a sure thing — there were a number of obstacles to overcome, such as the initial plan to sell the Reader software rather than give it away. And the portable document concept wasn’t at first an easy sell technologically either — the usefulness of a product like Acrobat was not as easy to explain as Photoshop. Any flashbacks from your personal experience and insights that you’d like to share that underscore how Acrobat/PDF became a success story at and for Adobe?
DEZIEL: There were some very significant milestones that were great predictors of the ultimate success of the product right from the beginning. You probably remember that the IRS posted its tax forms in PDF beginning with Acrobat 1.0. That level of validation, combined with the emergence of real, readily available electronic communication for the masses were tremendous predictors of what was to come with Acrobat. I know you probably ought to take some significant credit on the topic of making the Reader free because I know you were right there in the fray when we struggled between v. 1.0 and 2.0 with making that business decision and eventually adopting that business model. I think that the validation we got with the tax forms, the decision to freely distribute the Reader, the continued commitment to multi-platform, cross-platform development were key factors in the success and assets that we have with Acrobat, Reader and PDF today.
FOSS: And it didn’t hurt either that co-founder and then-CEO John Warnock was, to put it lightly, pretty fond of Acrobat and PDF in those days.
DEZIEL: John Warnock was staunch in his vision and belief in the value proposition of Acrobat and PDF — absolutely.