diron Head Talks PDF, Standards and Automation

Thomas L. Roedding was born 1971 in Muenster, Germany. Inspired by his family’s scientific background, Thomas began developing software at 15. By 1991, he had already founded his own company — diron GmbH & Co. KG — with the goal of developing software solutions to optimize customer business processes.

Thirteen years down the track, diron maintains offices in Thomas’s hometown of Muenster, and Crofton, MD. Thomas combines his managerial duties as diron’s President with work on company research projects and is a frequent conference speaker.

I caught up with him to ask about his take on PDF’s present and near future. The full text of the interview follows.

DAN SHEA, Planet PDF Associate Editor: When and why did you first get involved with Acrobat/PDF?

THOMAS ROEDDING, President, diron GmbH & Co. KG: Since 1993, we have developed software systems to automate the way printed documents are created dynamically. After a long time using postscript as the final output format, we migrated to PDF in 1998 when our customers requested its use for digital print output.

SHEA: For those who don’t know, what is it that you are doing with PDF right now?

ROEDDING: The basic idea we implement is to automate layout and other tasks to produce an output-ready PDF. Basically, repetitive tasks such as applying corporate design instructions can be done by software algorithms. Many people call this ‘PDF-on-the-fly’, where we extend the variable data with variable layout. Traditional workflows to modify a layout within given definitions are replaced by dynamic software programs. This technology is the integral part of the online systems (shops, portals, applications) we develop. Samples for those applications are direct marketing portals — online shops for the printing industries and publishing houses.

The most common and simple application is an online shop for business cards and sales collateral. The most sophisticated application is a complete direct marketing portal. This automates everything between the upload of a mailing template and an address file to printer control for high-volume printing, so that the user just needs a couple of mouse-clicks to send out 5,000 personalized letters. This took more than six years of development.

SHEA: Briefly describe the most significant change in the development or use of the technology, since you first began working with Acrobat/PDF, and why do you consider it significant?

ROEDDING: Well, besides the enhancements in the PDF file format, I think the most significant changes are the evolving standards as PDF/X, PDF/A and so on. They are so important because they enable us to finally complete the automation goal: automating a complete business process from the end user’s mouse click in the web browser to a running printer or press needs standards.

SHEA: Tell me, what is it about PDF that makes it useful to so many different people?

ROEDDING: I think the fundamental reasons are the broad availability of the reader and a file format with a frozen, reproducible state at a reasonable file size. This makes a PDF file useful in the professional graphic arts scene as well as for the office or home user.

SHEA: What’s your next PDF project?

ROEDDING: We are working on an online system to layout PDFs in a newspaper style automatically. The publishing company enables every reader to select the preferred content/news (by topic) and to get an individual newspaper instantly. The basic idea was to sell news contained in their well-structured content database at a low price and in an attractive layout to almost anybody. Who does not know that more information in a newspaper doesn’t automatically make it easier to be well informed? The challenge of such a product is not only to have all the necessary infrastructure — meaning a database or content management system with a fine-grained classification of each article. Selecting news via a web interface is nothing new. The challenge is to make the resulting document as attractive to read as a traditional newspaper. Only by making the appearance of the content similar to what everybody is used to reading does the product become attractive to a consumer market.

The first release was shown at drupa 2004 together with the first customer, Handelsblatt (Germany’s largest economy newspaper). The official launch of the first two products, ‘Investor NewsSnap’ and ‘PDF Ticker’, was done on www.handelsblatt.com in Summer 2004.

Today’s implementation needs less than a second to arrange all articles in a newspaper style and to generate a PDF. We are extending and improving this technology to make these customized newspapers more and more sophisticated.

SHEA: Acrobat and PDF are now used in so many industries and in so many ways; do you see new areas that perhaps haven’t yet been tapped? Where do you see the greatest potential for growth?

ROEDDING: Well, from my technical point of view, I am missing the support of digital print production with variable data. It might be that PPML/VDX will fill in this gap. For me, how to use PDF for digital printing with variable content is an open question. The current approaches are still to much dependent on manufacturers or devices.

Regarding the greatest potential for growth, I believe that is in the areas of forms and enterprise applications. I am pretty much convinced that this market has a large potential. Using PDF with intelligent form functions to support workflows will be much more interesting in the future, but I think Adobe needs to consolidate technologies. Looking at the server products today, there are to many different concepts that have not been synchronized yet.

As a third area of potential growth, I expect more and more print outputs generated on the web will be based on PDF. Whether it be the travel itinerary, the account statement or any other print output one reqests using the web, most of them can potentially be transferred to PDF.

SHEA: What do you see in the future of PDF?

ROEDDING: My focus is on applications for dynamic document creation: I expect to see much more support for these applications. So besides all multi-media and electronic form features, I think the current applications of PDF as digital press template will be enhanced and will include a complete support of common standards, e.g. JDF.

SHEA: What can Adobe change in the next version of Acrobat to make it better?

ROEDDING: Even if it is an ‘old topic’ — the user interface is not what I would call ‘intuitive’. In my opinion, it is still not easy to understand which option is hidden in which sub-sub-menu.

SHEA: Can Acrobat and PDF be all things to all people?

ROEDDING: I am sure PDF is the document standard for everybody. To have reproducible output for any kind of document is a major benefit for everybody. More now than ever before, I think. There are so many different systems connected to the web, it is important that users do not need to worry about compatibility issues relating to operating systems and applications if they want to send a document.

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