PDF Master: Hans Hartman 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 Hans Hartman, chair of last year’s Seybold PDF Summit events in New York and San Francisco, which included the ‘PDF Shootout’ independent vendor comparisons and the Seybold survey on PDF usage. Hartman is now helping to organize Seybold’s first PDF Summit event in Europe, slated for June 11-13 in Amsterdam, Holland. The next Seybold Seminars event in the U.S. will be Seybold San Francisco 2003, recently moved to a new date — September 8-12 — in part so it can be held in the new Moscone West complex.

KARL DE ABREW: Today many Acrobat & PDF users will be familiar with you because of your work with the Seybold PDF Conference and the PDF Summit events. When and why did you first get involved with Acrobat/PDF?

HANS HARTMAN: ‘I used to work for graphic arts vendors (Barco Graphics, Xaos Tools, Live Picture) before I got lost in dotcom-land, heading an online scheduling and collaboration company. Both backgrounds are useful for me to put in perspective what is currently happening with PDF in the graphic arts and the XML enterprise collaboration spaces.’

DE ABREW: You’re busy now helping to plan Seybold’s first PDF Summit in Europe, scheduled for June 11-13 in your native Holland. That must be a bit special. Why the decision to take this event to Europe this year, and how is it shaping up?

HARTMAN: ‘We’re getting an incredible support from the local European PDF community. We’ve always had quite a good following from European visitors and also speakers at our US PDF conferences in the past. In other words, the step to hold a European event there was a logical expansion.

But once we started talking with local folks, the whole idea of holding a pan-European conference became more and more interesting.

It’s not only that there are differences between the US and Europe. Within Europe there are considerable differences in how people work with PDF and what issues they find are important. for example, color management is a bigger theme in German-speaking countries; certified PDF is strong in Belgium and Holland, but is now also to start getting roots in the UK and Germany; and the UK has a lot of experience with online preflighting.

At the same time, with the Euro facilitating more cross-national trade and also publishing, people have PDF files that are being re-purposed over the borders, so they need to know more about the practices elsewhere.

Our PDF Summit is going to be the first of its kind European platform that enables people to share what they’re doing within their country and to learn what’s happening with PDF use outside their country.’

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?

HARTMAN: ‘When I got involved with PDF it was primarily a technology that let users easily view and print documents on computers that used different platforms, without the users needing to have the necessary source applications. That was all.

I’ve seen it grow to a standard that is the equivalent of digital film in the graphic arts industry and that of a formatted XML-container in the enterprise industry.’

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?

HARTMAN: ‘I can’t think of areas that PDF should but has not yet expanded into.

But I see many areas where PDF made moderate inroads and could still grow, because the current tools still need refining or the users need to be more educated about PDF’s advantages. I’m thinking of groupwork document collaboration, XML integration, and editability.’

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.

HARTMAN: ‘Yes, that would help. On the other hand I think Acrobat’s interface is ready for an overhaul. Other applications like Photoshop and Microsoft Word face similar challenges of people who use these applications in quite different ways and with different skill levels. But the interfaces of these applications are better suited to different usage.’

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

HARTMAN: ‘Two things. One, the PDF standards that graphic arts associations are successfully establishing in the various European countries, not in the least through the efforts of the Ghent Workgroup. Second, the potential of PDF becoming a graphically rich front-end to enterprise back-end systems, possible through its support of XML.’

DE ABREW: According to Adobe’s development cycle for Acrobat, a new version is expected sometime in early- to mid-2003. What additions or enhancements would you like to see in the next major upgrade, and why?

HARTMAN: ‘I’d like Adobe to make progress in the areas that PDF users according to our PDF Survey see as the greatest problem with Acrobat: the difficulty to edit PDF files. Expanding on this, I’d like to also see editability of XML being built into the program with the type of easy interface that Office 11 is going to have. And, since you got me going on my dream wish list, I would love to have redlining in Acrobat.’

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.

HARTMAN: ‘I think the greatest area of confusion in the use of PDF is proofing. PDF is a blessing in disguise because you can save a lot of time and money in the proofing stage, but people often rely on soft proofs or digital prints made directly from their computer. Obviously, problems like missing fonts can’t be checked that way. The industry is still trying to figure out what are acceptable types of proofs at the different proofing stages, including those for final signoffs.

In fact, we’ll include a new track at our Amsterdam PDF Summit that specifically deals with proofing issues.’

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About the Author: Karl De Abrew

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