PDF Master: David Zwang talks with Planet PDF

As part of our ongoing reflection on the June 1993 introduction of Adobe Acrobat and PDF by Adobe Systems, Planet PDF CEO Karl De Abrew is conducting a series of brief ‘Masters of the PDF Universe’ profiles with key members of the Planet PDF community. Today Karl talks with David Zwang, a highly regarded systems and process analyst with Zwang and Company, long-time moderator for the PDF-oriented sessions at the Seybold Seminars‘ conferences and other similar industry events, a contributing editor on Acrobat and PDF for The Seybold Report and a contributing writer for several other industry publications.

KARL DE ABREW: Today many Acrobat & PDF users will be familiar with you because of your longstanding work at the former Seybold Seminars PDF Days now officially titled Track Chair at the Seybold PDF Conference. When and why did you first get involved with Acrobat/PDF?

DAVID ZWANG: ‘I was at Seybold Seminars in San Francisco in the fall of 1991 when John Warnock introduced ‘Carousel,’ the code name for what was to become Acrobat.

At the time there were other attempts to create what was to become electronic paper, and since I was involved in electronic publishing at the time, it excited me. I was also an early beta tester, and found all sorts of wonderful applications for PDF and Acrobat. I shared that excitement with my clients, audiences at events I presented at, and anyone else who would listen or care.’

DE ABREW: 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?

ZWANG: ‘This is a tough one, because I can think of three things that I believe were significant milestones in the development of Acrobat and the Portable Document Format (PDF).

I guess the first would be the proper support of color, since it moved PDF from a document format to a publishing format. The second would be the addition of internal tagging structure, since that extended the scope of the publishing support and fosters lots of additional development and use. And finally, the introduction of the collaboration tools (markup and review), since it added significant value to the publishing process itself.’

DE ABREW: Acrobat and PDF are now used in so many industries and in so many ways, do you see new areas that haven’t perhaps been tapped much yet?

ZWANG: ‘While I am sure that there are many other uses that will be found for PDF in its current and future state, I think the biggest opportunities are in extending penetration in existing commercial markets. I also think the penetration in Ebooks and other possible consumer uses will continue to grow as the cultural acceptance and new device development continues.’

DE ABREW: Acrobat has grown into a large, multi-function tool for use in so many areas — including document management, presentations, collaboration, forms and prepress — and it can be intimidating for new users. Is there a need for separating out this functionality to make it easier to use.

ZWANG: ‘As is the case with much of the software on the market, as it matures and new features are added, unless you have been an early adopter it is hard to keep track of all that exists in the product. I think that this is one of Adobe’s greatest challenges. I believe that they see this too, since they have tried to package various levels of functionality in many different packages for a few years now. I think that continued GUI changes, and new packaging solutions to target market needs will allow them to increase market share and address some of the confusion that exists with such a powerful tool.

However, In order to be very successful at this, I think that they may have to package it at a more granular, tool-based level. While this concept may present some technological problems, and surely presents a nightmare for any marketing department, it may allow them to better handle the varying demands of this increasingly rich format (PDF) and product (Acrobat).’

DE ABREW: Pondering the future of Acrobat and/or PDF, what most excites you about the next few years?

ZWANG: ‘All of the problems that can be solved with the introduction of PDF into many communication and publishing processes. Also the exciting new plug-ins and 3rd-party applications that will be developed to enhance it even further. I love to see how creative it allows people to be.’

DE ABREW: You recently wrote in The Seybold Report that many in the prepress industry believe ‘Adobe increasingly seems to have relegated the professional publishing market to a back seat in its PDF development and marketing strategy.’ Why do you believe they’ve come to that conclusion, and what does that mean for the role of third-party developers, and prepress users of PDF?

ZWANG: ‘I don’t think that they have intentionally relegated professional publishing to a back seat. I think it is more in their marketing strategy. More importantly I don’t think their problems with that sector is in their development strategy. They have lots to offer with PDF and Acrobat in the professional publishing market, they just haven’t done much to promote it.

There are lots of opportunities for 3rd party developers to fill holes in the product strategy, the problem is that the message is a lot bigger than the 3rd party products. Adobe needs to set the base message, and then the 3rd party developers will appear to have something to offer.’

DE ABREW: Briefly describe a common misconception about or frequent problem you’ve seen with Acrobat/PDF that you’d like to try to clarify for others and/or provide a tip to address.

ZWANG: ‘While I am sure there are many, I think that in professional print publishing there is a misconception of whether PDF can be a final format, not just a proofing format. While there are many reasons why this misconception exists, with the development of the PDF/X standards along with the global PDF/X Plus specifications this misconception is easily remedied.’

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