PDF stands for portable document format, not the catchiest of terms, the acronym actually sounds far zippier. A PDF is the latest incarnation in a long line of products that have made it possible to take what you see on your computer screen and actually get that onto a printed page in a recognisable form.
This all started back in the 80’s with a now little know boutique software house Adobe Systems and their groundbreaking product PostScript. PostScript was as revolutionary in its own way as such better know products as Visicalc and Wordperfect.
Prior to PostScript it had always been possible to print out from your computer, but there was no way of guaranteeing what would actually come out. It was a lottery, with the variables coming from printer set up, hardware compatibility and many other factors. From one application things might print out in absolute perfection. From others you’d just get a mass of gobbledygook with the occasional recognised piece of text or string of number peeking out from the morass.
PostScript changed all that and today remains the backbone that powers many current Adobe products including the PDF. The ease with which we print things today is something that most IT users, including myself take for granted. My memory is long enough however to remember the days when printer paper came in boxes and had to be fed in with the holes lined up.
One of my first machines was an Amstrad PCW8256 which my father gave to me about the same time as Apple started shipping printers embedded with PostScript, 1985. In those days it was exciting enough to be able to write something out, press print and then just a few hours (well perhaps minutes) later have the finished document in your hand.
No matter that it was in all black and white (or faded grey and white if the printer ribbon was going,) that it tended to smug and there was absolutely no possibility of graphics. A college essay could cribbed, paraphrased and on the lecturers desk in a highly readable (therefore better scoring format) in a matter of hours.
Today we take all this too much for granted. Adobe with there PDF’s and PostScripts have made quality printing easy to achieve a Pretty D*** Fine achievement, and one that perhaps tends to get over looked.