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PDF: A Love-Hate Relationship

Everyone complains about PDFs, but no one ever does anything about it -- except keep right on using them. And for document archiving usage will continue to increase.
Everyone complains about PDFs, but no one ever does anything about it -- except keep right on using them. And for document archiving usage will continue to increase.Like the weather (not to mention the Yankees and HMOs), PDFs are an easy and obvious target -- everyone uses them, and (almost) everyone can cite at least one thing they don't like about them. Familiarity breeds contempt. That said, the PDF ranks high on both longevity and market penetration -- before plunging into that further, take a moment to consider our list of 8 Reasons Why PDFs Suck that led us to include them in among the 9 Most Overrated Technologies.

That's particularly true for document archiving. It seems that 90% of organization use the PDF file format for long-term scanned document storage. That's according to recent research from AIIM -- you perhaps know them better as the Association for Information and Image Management, but in a thicket of initialisms the organization is also known as the Enterprise Content Management Association and was originally founded as the National Microfilm Association -- you know, back in the day.

And speaking of market penetration, guess where all but a paltry 1% of those PDF-ed documents are coming from? That's right, the ubiquitous, inescapable Microsoft Office. Despite rumors of chinks in that monopoly, I wouldn't count on market fragmentation anytime soon.

There's one thing that does trump Microsoft and Adobe though: paper. According to AIIM, 90% maybe using PDFs for archiving, but 100% use paper. Despite rumors of the paperless office and advances in document imaging and scanning offerings from NeatDesk to Kodak, tree pulp remains the reliable, universal, and immovable format of choice.

Looking ahead the reliance on dead trees may wane (stop if you've heard this before). According to the same study, when asked to predict reliance on paper archiving 5 years into the future, the rate dropped 23% (from 100% to 77%). Over the same time horizon, use of PDF is expected to rise but 3% (to 93%) begging the question about what other formats and technologies will fill the void between those 2 predicted trends (or calling into question the realism of any significant move away from paper).

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Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer