OS X: PDF Inside

Mac OS X explores a lot of unfamiliar territory for Mac users, from its blue and bubbly Aqua outside to the code that powers the operating system's underlying functions. But for creative pros, a feature that Apple touts as a boon is OS X's built-in support for Portable Document Format, or PDF.

PDF certainly is important to many designers as a way to share files with coworkers, clients, and even print shops. But is OS X's built-in support for the file format really big news?

PDF Particulars
OS X's new imaging model -- a set of rules for describing how pictures and text are displayed and printed -- is called Quartz. Because Quartz uses the PDF drawing model for imaging, native applications can create PDFs without the need for outside programs.

Chris Bourdon, Apple's product line manager for Mac OS X technologies, calls PDF the "backbone technology of the entire imaging model."

"PDF is the lingua franca of publishing, so being able to create PDFs and put them in PDF-based workflows is useful for print professionals," he says.

Bourdon adds that Quartz gives users "high-fidelity graphic output. A lot of creative professionals in the print space have been using PostScript and PDF for a long time, and we're simply taking those technologies and moving them into the core of the operating system."

A Rose by Any Other Name?
Software manufacturer Adobe devised PDF and is responsible for upgrades to its specification. The latest version of the specification, 1.4, is supported by Acrobat 5, Adobe's PDF creation and annotation program.

However, OS X's PDF support draws mostly on version 1.2 of the PDF specification. Bourdon describes the version discrepancy as "a timing thing."

"We needed to be able to deliver on the technology of OS X," he says. "Given where we were and where the specification was at the time, we chose something we knew we could deliver on."

What a Difference a Dot Makes
The difference between versions 1.2 and 1.4 may seem small, but it's crucial to designers who send PDFs to print shops. Sarah Rosenbaum, Adobe's director of product management in e-paper solutions, believes that while OS X's implementation of PDF is sufficient for desktop viewing and printing, it's "not as complete" as Acrobat 5's support.

"Acrobat has spot color and PostScript 3 for duotones, as well as ICC color support," she says. "Apple didn't support those things."

Bourdon concurs that OS X's PDF features alone won't satisfy print professionals. "A lot of professional graphics and printing folks need the high-end creation utilities Acrobat Distiller gives them," he says. "While we build into our PDF implementation the ability to understand all these things, we don't provide the pro-level feature set that Adobe's customers need."

Still, PDF support will be welcomed by many OS X users, even in its current form. PDF is an ideal cross-platform file format, with wide acceptance in the Windows world. What's more, software developers are likely to find innovative ways to integrate PDF support into their applications. For example, FileMaker uses OS X's QuickTime Import Engine in the OS X-native version of FileMaker Pro 5.5 to allow users to import PDF documents as QuickTime movies that they can attach to records.

And OS X's PDF implementation will continue to evolve, Bourdon says. "We're in step with keeping up with the specification and trying to move forward in parallel with Adobe," he adds. "We're working together."

Is the Time Right?

By itself, OS X's current PDF support is not enough to entice print professionals to adopt the new operating system, a fact Apple readily acknowledges. Bourdon believes Mac users who rely on tools like Adobe Photoshop or InDesign won't migrate to the new OS until OS X-native versions of key applications start hitting retail shelves. That could be a while for Adobe, which has committed to developing software for OS X but won't comment on when those applications will ship. Still, Bourdon remains confident.

"I have no doubt that OS X will be very successful in the pro space," Bourdon says. "We're laying the foundation. These are the technologies that are driving a modern operating system in the graphics and print space, and it's Quartz, and it's the compositing engine that we built in, and it's ColorSync, and it's OpenGL for 3D graphics. We're providing this technology so that developers can take advantage of it and build great apps."

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