PDF Master: Max Wyss 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 Max Wyss of Prodok Engineering, based near Zurich, Switzerland. Highly regarded for his expertise in PDF-based forms — and especially known for some of his legendary, interactive forms that integrate JavaScript for added functionality — Wyss also is a consultant on the ‘Smart PDF Workflow’ concept and a popular speaker at industry conferences and events.

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

MAX WYSS: ‘My very first contact with Acrobat was back in version 2.0 times, where Adobe had a short-time bundle of Acrobat with Illustrator. And I happened to get my update at that time. My first use was to get CAD drawings into Illustrator, in order to enhance them for the service manuals. It did work, but of course, we noticed the problems which are still there, caused by the different ways to describe curves, and the line plotter-orientedness of CAD programs.

Then there was some quiet time until I got that infamous project for the belt-drive-component catalog [see previous Planet PDF interview]. This, together with Acrobat 3, was what I would call the ‘new era’ for me with PDF and Acrobat.’

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?

WYSS: ‘For me, the most significant development was definitely the introduction of interactivity, by means of the forms feature. A first step came with Acrobat 3, and then — of course — the big boost with the 3.5 Forms Update which brought us Acrobat JavaScript. This step was definitely the end of the notion of PDF being a static format.

Another significant development is the whole community which evolved around PDF. And the amazing thing is that, despite its size, it is still a ‘pretty friendly bunch of people.’ And, unless ‘corporate’ types start poisoning it, it looks as if it will remain so for some time.

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?

WYSS: ‘PDF is so open and versatile that essentially everything is possible. I remember a commercial ‘If you can imagine it, you can do it.’ I am not quite sure if it was from Adobe, or from Disney, or someone else, but it pretty much says it. This means that I would not be surprised wherever it comes up. It could come up anywhere where information has to be presented. And considering the other layers of the PDF format, a lot is imaginable.’

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?

WYSS: ‘This is a consequence of the versatility of the Portable Document Format. It can be intimidating, but I don’t think that it is a good idea to separate out such functionalities because it can be that the next day, you suddenly may need it. What, on the other hand, would be an advantage is some way to customize the user interface, giving the user the best possible working environment. Such an approach would also allow a wider-spread use of the application.’

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

WYSS: ‘That there is a surprise just around the corner. Another thing which is amazing is still how many people don’t know about the potential PDF (and Acrobat) has, particularly if it comes to interactive functions. More than often I hear people say after some presentations ‘I did not know that this is possible.’

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?

WYSS: ‘Oh, there are many wishes, and there will be even more when the product finally comes out. One thing I really, really wish is that Adobe remembers the ‘P’ in PDF, namely ‘Portable,’ and that there will be no difference between the functionality of the various platforms: Mac, Unix (OK, let’s be modest, and just say Linux and FreeBSD), Windows. The question ‘does it work on …?’ should no longer be needed. The question should be ‘is it possible to do?’, and the answer would be either ‘Yes’ or ‘No, but we are working on it.”

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.

WYSS: ‘Hmmm… well, I think it is still the question about available functionality and price of the product. I still hear ‘I got Adobe, why can’t I do this or that?’. Well, those people have the free Reader, and want to do things that Reader can’t.’

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About the Author: Karl De Abrew

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