Speakers at the Technical Conference Europe 2013: Interview with Bruno Lowagie

Enabling a paperless world pushing the limits of digital document interactivity

Over the next few weeks we would like to introduce our speakers on the Technical Conference Europe 2013, their presentation’s topics and their personal view on the world of PDF and related ISO standards. So we prepared some little interviews with the speakers for the conference.

Today’s interview: Bruno Lowagie

Portrait Bruno Lowagie

Bruno Lowagie is the original developer and one of the current maintainers of iText. He has written two books “iText in Action”. He’s the CEO of the iText Software Group. He lives in Belgium with his wife and two sons.

1. What is the main focus of your presentation, and what would you like attendees to take home from it? How is your presentation relevant to attendees and their PDF related development work?

TC 171 of the International Organisation for Standardisation is currently working on ISO-32000-2 aka PDF 2.0. One of the important changes to the PDF specification involves digital signatures. PDF 2.0 will include the PAdES standard published by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI). Furthermore some of the old types of digital signatures will be deprecated. In my talk, I will guide you through the world of digital signing. I’ll focus on the best practices regarding signing, so that developers can make their applications future-proof.

Here’s the book I wrote about PDF and digital signatures: http://itextpdf.com/book/digitalsignatures. It’s available for free. The structure of the talk corresponds with the structure of the TOC of this book.

2. What would you like to take home from the conference? Which presentations will you definitely attend at the conference?

  • Day 1, track 3: Inside PDF: PDF 2.0, XMP and Validation Day 2, track
  • B: Digital Signatures ; track C: panel Creation of good PDF I’d like
  • to have a chat with Bernd Wild about the combination of PDF/A and digital signatures (which is also the topic I’d like to present in at the Technical Conference North America 2013 in August 2013 in Seattle).

3. We are celebrating 20 years of PDF this year: What’s your personal history with PDF, and where, when and how did you meet?

In 1998, I was hired by Ghent University to rewrite the software used by the Student Administration. Whereas in the past, student lists, lists with examination results, deliberation lists, transcripts of records,… etc were all created from a CLIPPER program that only worked in a DOS environment and that was only able to print to an HP printer, I promised to build a server-side Java web application that would produce all these documents digitally in the form of PDFs that could be viewed on any operating system.

As Java was already very popular and as PDF was considered being a ‘de facto standard’, I assumed I would find a software library that allowed the web application to create a high volume of PDFs (often with thousands of pages) on the fly. Unfortunately, none of the products I evaluated at that time met my needs.

That’s why I wrote my own PDF library. This small library needed to be able to stream PDFs to the browser from a web application and it needed to be fast. I read the PDF spec during the Christmas holidays of 1998 and I wrote this library in about 6 weeks. Soon it become apparent that I didn’t really grasp the PDF specification the first time I read it. At that time, I really hated PDF.

However, after one year of experience with my first PDF library, I saw the light. I learned to stop worrying and love PDF, and I decided to write a new PDF library from scratch. This new library would still need to be fast and would still need to be fit for web applications, but on top of that, I wanted to create a library that was programmer-friendly, so that programmers who wanted to create PDF wouldn’t need to know the details of the PDF syntax. I also wanted to  create a framework that was highly extensible, so that adding new features that were released in new PDF versions would be fairly easy.

The result was iText, a free open source PDF library available in Java and C#.

4. Looking at PDF today: How would you like the format’s character or it’s application in the real world like to see improved?

The mission statement of the iText group is “to enable a paperless world pushing the limits of digital document interactivity.”

We would like people to understand that PDF is MORE than “digital paper”. We want PDF to be the format that adds value to a document, value that is missing in paper documents. For instance: a wet ink signature is hard to validate; a digital signature can easily be verified programmatically. A paper workflow is slow and error-prone; a document-centric BPM solution based on PDF could save plenty of time and money.

For this to become a reality, we need to change the hearts and minds of people. This is already happening, but we still have a long way to go.

About PDF Association

Founded in 2006 as the PDF/A Competence Center, the PDF Association exists to promote the adoption and implementation of International Standards for PDF technology.

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