Subsets of the PDF format have already been standardized, including one for archiving documents. But Adobe customers, particularly governments, have told Adobe that making PDF an ISO-approved standard would raise their level of confidence that the format would be around in the long term, said Kevin Lynch, Adobe's chief software architect.
"We've already been taking feedback and updating the specification over time. Now we'll be doing it in a more formal way, through a standards body," he said.
Adobe plans to give the specification that forms the basis for its PDF Reader and Acrobat products to the industry group Enterprise Content Management Association (formerly the Association for Information and Image Management and still referred to as AIIM).
AIIM plans to host a working group and release the specification to the ISO, which is expected to form a PDF standardization technical committee with representatives from businesses and customers, including governments.
The process is expected to take one to three years, Lynch said.
Adobe intends to maintain its products' compatibility with any PDF standards, he added. Existing standards will also comply with any ISO standard, he said.
Document formats have become an increasingly high-profile issue in the past two years.
The open-source OpenDocument format, or ODF, has become a viable standard, particularly for government customers. Microsoft is in the process of gaining ISO standardization for the document formats in the latest version of its Office suite of productivity software.
"We are starting to see the industry get more interested in these document formats being managed by standards bodies. We see Microsoft responding to that, and we are certainly responding to that, too," Lynch said.
Lynch said he has considered making the underlying specification of Adobe's popular Flash Web presentation software into an industry standard as well.
But at this point, Flash standardization is not appropriate because the product is changing so rapidly, whereas PDF is more stable, he said.