PDF now has a standard home, but whither XMP?

  • 7-Jul-2008

Until a few days ago, Adobe's Portable Document Format was an open format in name only. The specification was freely available, to be sure, but PDF's development and direction remained firmly under the control of one entity (namely, Adobe Systems). That changed on July 2, 2008, when the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) officially took over the PDF specification from Adobe. PDF is now an authentic industry standard, maintained by a real standards body. (It is officially  ISO 32000-1, and you can get your very own copy of it for a mere 370 Swiss francs.)

Adobe is to be commended for making good on its commitment (announced in January of 2007) to turn the PDF format over to an independent standards body. Everybody benefits from this move. Adobe no longer has to bear the burden of maintaining single-handedly what has grown to become a breathtakingly elaborate format specification (over 1300 pages long), and the PDF developer community no longer has to wonder whether the format will forever remain quasi-proprietary.

Adobe needs to do the same thing now with XMP (the eXtensible Metadata Platform), the XML metadata format for images (and other asset types). As readers of our Digital & Media Asset Management Report 2008 already know, XMP is seeing widespread use in the DAM and MAM spaces (and getting more popular by the day). It is supported by virtually all Adobe products, and is an integral part of many subvariants of PDF (such as PDF/A), some of which have been ISO standards for years, ironically.

XMP has been under Adobe's control since it made its first appearance in 2001 (as part of the Acrobat 5 release). It's an important standard, one that needs to evolve quickly, in response to community needs and under community direction. (The last revision of the XMP standard was published in 2005.) Adobe is pushing the XMP standard ... at Adobe's pace and in ways that benefit Adobe. (The parallels with PDF are numerous and obvious.) There are lingering technical issues waiting to be solved, however. Issues whose solutions shouldn't have to be dependent on Adobe's needs only.

Let's cut to the chase. If Adobe wants to demonstrate its commitment to openness, it should do for XMP what it has already done for PDF: Put it in the hands of a legitimate standards body. Right now it's open in name only.