Editor’s Note: This article is part of the PDF Collaboration: WebDAV In Action article
When Acrobat 5 was released, online digital signatures were presented as an
integral part of a collaborative PDF workflow. We assumed, erroneously,
that these would be handled in the same manner as online comments — via
shared folders or WebDAV. Instead, we learned that online signatures had
to be implemented in a more cumbersome way, which unfortunately we were
unable to test.
Due to legal requirements, a digital signature can
be applied only after the whole document is saved locally and the encrypted
signature embedded in the PDF file. To accomplish this online, the entire
file must be downloaded, temporarily stored on a local drive, and then
uploaded to the Web server via a ‘submit’ process, generally through a
CGI script. The WebDAV approach used for comments could not be used, because
it would allow the signature and its PDF file to be separate — potentially
allowing substitution and negating the signature’s legally binding value.
We acknowledge the necessity of this process, especially
for legal contracts and other sensitive PDF files. However, we are also
disappointed, since the requirement to download and upload the PDF — especially
if multiple signatures are required — will be extremely burdensome to graphic
arts users. PDFs from these users are often very large, containing full-resolution
images. An online PDF ‘contract proof,’ for example, could easily be too
large for practical use of digital signatures.
What About Forms?
The use of PDF forms data
is also an intriguing aspect of an online workflow, although it too is
separate from the WebDAV approach. Online PDFs could conceivably have
a standard ‘cover page,’ including fields and check boxes, that could
be integrated with a general work-flow system. Although we did not test
this feature, it is still quite feasible, according to several sources
at Adobe. The ‘submit’ process for PDF forms data is well established
for Web-resident documents, and will be expanded by Adobe’s new $39 application,
Approval, released in late August.
We expect that a number of graphic-arts developers
and integrators will add forms capabilities to their online PDF offerings.