• The Evolution of PDF and How Digital Signatures Make It Even Better

    Posted 5 years ago
    23 Jul 2018
    Digital Signature

    Late 1980’s and early 1990’s were an interesting time for the tech world. Office computers, printers, fax machines and scanners were quickly overtaking the corporate world and the tech industry was growing at a record breaking pace.

    By the early 90’s, office computers had gained the ability to transfer files to other computers but, there still remained an issue. The main use the corporate sector had for computers and their ability to transfer files was to keep records.

    But, the problem was that when a document or a file produced through a word processor was transferred from one computer to another, it completely messed up the formatting of the file.

    This might seem like a small issue. But, considering that record keeping was one of the main uses of office computers, it becomes obvious that this issue was affecting a lot of people and making file transfers impossible.

    The arrival of PDF

    The arrival of PDF

    As file transfers were not possible, the corporate word was still heavily relying on paper for all record keeping that required transfer. Meanwhile, tech giants and their partners in the corporate world were pouring in huge amounts of resources to find a solution to this problem. Many companies came and went but none of them introduced a solution that could win every one.

    Then, in late 1992 at the annual trade show known as COMDEX, a small tech company introduced a file storage format they called Portable Document Format. This tech company was known as Adobe. Little did Adobe know that PDF would become a huge success and help put their company on the map.

    The reason file transfers ended up a mess was because files produced through word processors relied on the software, hardware and the operating software they were created on. PDF, on the other hand, worked completely independently of the equipment, OS and the software and this allowed PDF files to work perfectly across all kinds of computers and operating software.

    Adobe introduced PDF along with their Adobe Acrobat Reader, which allowed users to access and print PDF files. Adobe also introduced a software package through which users could create and edit PDF files. This was the first PDF editor the world had ever seen.

    Adobe blew everyone away with PDF and its companion software. The professional reviewers at the trade show had nothing but great things to say about PDF and the show’s jury named PDF a “must-have”. A few months later, in early 1993 Adobe made its critically acclaimed product available worldwide.

    The reception that PDF received

    The reception that PDF received

    As soon as it was made available, many big organizations and multinational companies bought the Adobe Acrobat Reader and the PDF file creator. But, with the price starting at $500, a big majority of business, organizations and individuals found it impossible to avail the product.

    Adobe felt this too when their sales started dwindling. Month after month, sales were dropping and the company’s financial results were becoming ever so disappointing. It was at this point that a board of directors meeting was called. Majority of the executives believed that product was costing too much and had to be discontinued.

    The company’s CEO at the time, felt differently. Hence, Adobe decided to lower the price on its PDF creator and to completely remove the price tag on its Adobe Acrobat Reader. No other tech company had tried such a move at such a big scale before.

    Everyone at Adobe was feeling nervous and scared for their job. But, to their delight, the move finally tipped the scales in their favor and PDF started gaining the success it deserved. There was no denying that PDF worked flawlessly across all kinds of computers and the need for this format was there. It was the price that was hindering PDF’s usage and once the price tag was removed, more and more people started embracing PDF.

    The big shot in the arm for Adobe came from the United States Internal Revenue Service of all institutions in the world. You see, the IRS was heavily reliant on paper at the time. An idea of just how reliant the IRS was on paper can be taken from the fact that every year before tax filing time, the IRS would send out tax forms to hundreds of millions of people across America.

    Needless to say, the completely paper reliant IRS was very inefficient, ineffective and rather wasteful. With the arrival of PDF and then the internet, the IRS saw its window to finally switch to online tax filing. Switching from paper to PDF made everything so smooth and efficient for IRS that it helped serve as a big promotion for PDF.

    Soon after that, more and more people were buying the Acrobat Reader and the PDF creator. From multinational and international organizations to government owned institutions and small business, everyone was ordering their copy of the software package.

    By the end of 90’s, it is estimated that more than a hundred million computers around the world had a copy of the Adobe Acrobat Reader on their hard drive.

    PDF today

    PDF Today

    By the start of the 21st century, Adobe had already removed the price tag on its Adobe Acrobat Reader and hundreds of millions of people around the world were relying on PDF in their day to day tasks. So, in 2008, Adobe decided to make things official by releasing PDF as an open standard. It was published by the International Organization for Standardization as ISO 32000-1:2008.

    A public patent license was published by Adobe to ISO 32000-1. This granted absolutely royalties free rights for all patents owned by Adobe which are necessary for creating, editing, using, selling and distributing PDF files.

    Once Adobe released PDF as an open format, it became possible for other groups and organizations to develop their own PDF file reader, creator and editor. These third party applications have introduced quite a lot of innovative features to the industry which have helped make PDF an even better file format than before.

    How PDF editors are making PDF even better

    Classic PDF Editor

    Here are some of the features offered by these third party PDF file editors that caught our eye;

    • Easy file conversion

    Like Adobe Acrobat Reader, most of these software have to be downloaded and installed before the user can run them. But, once that is out of the way users can start benefitting from the software. One of our favorite features offered by these apps is the easy file conversion tool.

    Through this feature, any PDF file can be converted to more than 500 file formats. And, the best thing about this feature is that it is extremely fast and safe. Moreover, users can convert PDFs to image formats like JPEG and Bitmap as well.

    • Built-in screenshot tool

    Another great feature introduced to the industry by third party PDF file editors is the built-in screenshot tool. This feature enables the user to take a screenshot of any PDF file. The screenshot can be of an entire page or just a part of it.

    The screenshot can be saved as a separate PDF file, a Bitmap file or a JPEG file. Users also have the option to save the screenshot in the clipboard so that they can use it in other parts of the file or even in other PDF files.

    • File merging

    File merging is tool that has impressed everyone in the industry. From people in the corporate sector to professional tech reviewers, everyone has been thanking third party PDF editors for introducing this feature.

    Thanks to this useful and time saving tool, any user can merge two or even more PDF files. But that’s not even the best part! The best part is that this feature can take files that are in different file formats and then produce a combined file that is in PDF.

    • Annotation tools

    As documents become bigger and more complex, annotation tools have had to adapt to the ever growing needs of consumers. Today’s PDF editor offer lots of useful annotation tools such as allowing users to add notes, comments, watermarks, stamps, etc.

    • Easy file comparing

    It is quite common when creating an updated version of an old file that the user feels the need to have the old version open on the screen so that they may compare it with the new one. With the easy file comparing feature in the latest PDF editors, users can do just that.

    • Work with cloud based services

    This feature has been introduced just a few months ago but it has already earned quite a few fans. With growing storage needs, most of have started storing a lot of our data on a number of cloud based services. And it is because of that, users had to access their cloud storage account and download their PDF files whenever they wanted to edit them.

    Well, not anymore. This new feature allows the user to open their cloud storage account right in the PDF editor and select open any PDF file they want.

    • Tabbed viewing

    Web browsers have had this feature for a long while now so we are not sure what took PDF editors so long to get this one but the good news is that they finally have it. From now onwards, you can have all your PDF files open in the same window.

    What makes PDF the best

    Over the years, PDF has gone through a few updates and has gained a lot of useful features which helped make the format the most commonly used file format of today’s tech world. Here are some of the best aspects of PDF;

    • It works across all platforms

    Originally, PDF was created to solve the file transfer problems. PDF allowed documents to work perfectly across different computers and even operating software. Today’s PDF takes things forward by allowing PDF files to even work on smartphones, smartwatches, music players, tablets and other modern gadgets.

    Moreover, as PDF is the most commonly used file format of today, Adobe Acrobat Reader comes pre-installed on almost all new computers, laptops and tablets. Smartphones makers install their own PDF file readers on all their new smartphones.

    And above that, even web browsers have introduced their own built-in PDF file readers so that the users can open a PDF file right in the browser instead of having to download the file first and then opening it in the Adobe Acrobat Reader.

    • PDF files are searchable

    The amount of data we generate everyday is rapidly rising and hence, so are the length of our PDF files and documents. When looking for something specific in a file, the search can take some time, especially if the file is a long one.

    Fortunately, today’s PDF files are searchable. Meaning, you don’t have to convert your PDF to doc in order to search it. All you have to do to find something specific is write down what you are looking for and hit enter. Today’s PDF files also allow users to create a contents page at the start of the file and clicking on a specific topic takes the user directly to that topic.

    Users can also create sub-contents pages to further classify the topics. For example, a science book can have a contents page with biology, physics and chemistry on it. And, clicking on any one of these would take the reader to that subject’s sub-contents page where each chapter would be listed.

    • With PDFs, users can now add multimedia to files

    In the early days of the internet, due to small bandwidth and technological limits, text was the main way to communicate. From news to science experiments, everything available on the internet was in the form of articles and posts.

    As the world was introduced to 3G internet and as DSLR cameras became widely available, the internet was introduced to photos. From cute cat photos to memes, photos became the go-to way for communicating. Even websites like Flickr, Tumblr and Shutterstock became big hits because of how popular image using had become across the internet.

    Then, the world was introduced to high speed 4G internet and meanwhile, smartphone cameras also got a lot better at recording videos. And that is why today, the internet is ruled by videos. From advertising to even memes, video rules everything today.

    Hence it is only natural that an average user would want to add photos and videos to their files and documents. Well, with PDF online bearbeiten, users have the option to add any video, photo, music and hyperlinks they want. Gone are the days of plain and boring text-only documents. This is the era of “media rich” documents and PDF is the best format for it.

    • PDF files help save space

    As our data generation and file lengths increase, so do our needs for storage space. Thankfully, PDF helps keep file sizes to the minimum by using ASCII codes to compress the contents of documents. This technique helps allow lower the storage space the file needs and as a result, helps conserve the storage space available.

    • PDF files are really secure

    PDF was built with security in mind and that is exactly why it is one of the most secure file formats of today. Even in legal activities, PDF is the most reliable and most commonly used file format.

    The reason behind this is that legal procedures require digital files to be in such a format that they cannot be altered without leaving an electronic print. This is something that PDF offers and when you combine this with other great features that PDF is known for, it’s not hard to see why it is the most preferred file format in legal proceedings.

    Moreover, PDFs can use 40 or 128 bit encryption process to encrypt files. This puts a password on the file and helps ensure that it cannot be accessed by anyone whom the file was not intended for.

    Above that, with the release of Adobe Acrobat XI, the tech world was introduced to the concept of digital signatures. Digital signatures allow the user to write (/draw) their signatures on a PDF file. Users also have the option to use an image of their signature or to use a digital certificate. Digital signatures provide a fool-proof way to keep a document’s integrity intact.

    How digital signatures work

    digital signature

    The process behind digital signatures is pretty straightforward. As we mentioned, the user can either draw their signature, use an image of it, or as most organizations and businesses around the world do, use digital certificates.

    Digital signatures can be considered a subset of electronic signatures and it is a really simple, smart and secure way to ensure the integrity and safety of a document. Digital signatures are best for those documents where proving data’s authenticity is important.

    The way digital signatures give proof of a document’s integrity is by verifying the signer’s identity, the time and date and also, keeping a check on whether a file was altered or tampered with after being signed.

    In short, when a document is digitally signed, the condition that the document is in is saved and if the file is edited or altered after being signed, the digital signature becomes invalidated and all file users are alerted to the changes.

    As aforementioned, most businesses and organizations prefer to use digital certificates as digital signatures for their PDF files. Digital Certificates can be thought of as virtual passports; they enable the user to exchange information online using the Public Key Infrastructure (PKI).

    An average user cannot generate their own Digital Certificates; instead, they have to obtain them from Certificate Authorities (CA). Certificate Authorities can be thought of as passport offices. Government institutes and large organizations can have their own Certificate Authorities or, they can purchase Digital Certificates from trusted third-party vendors who purchase their certs from genuine certificate providers.

    The role of third-party PDF editors in digital signatures

    Today’s PDF editors use special algorithms to optimize the validation process of digital signatures in order to provide an even better user experience. This feature has been introduced to the tech world as the automated signature verification process.

    Instead of the user having to manually check the authenticity of each digital signature in each PDF file, third party PDF editors handle this task themselves. The advantage of this feature is that it has really helped businesses around the world save a lot of time and increase productivity. Not to mention, it has also eliminated any chances of errors associated with the digital signature verification process.

    Another feature that third party PDF editors have introduced regarding digital signatures is the access level signature. With this feature, the file owner has the option to assign different sets of permission to different users on the same PDF file.

    The permissions can vary from one PDF editor to another but most of them allow the file owner to set permissions for fields like; comments, form fields and signing. The file owner can also assign permissions regarding which feature a particular file user can access. The features that can be restricted include; printing, copying file content and page extraction.

    Another option that the file owner has is that the owner can choose whether the file users have access to the aforementioned features after the file has been certified or not. If not, the document will be automatically locked down and all changes will be restricted.


    So, there you have it; the full story on PDF. PDF was born out of necessity. It had to go through a lot of challenges to prove itself. It made its parent company a household name in the process and, as the years go by, it keeps on finding more and more ways to impress us. There may be hundreds of file formats out there, but we doubt any of them has a history as rich as the mighty PDF!

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