There are many ways to open a PDF — but only one way to experience its full power

A lot has changed in the world of digital documents since Adobe invented the PDF file format more than 25 years ago.

Companies and individual end users alike have grown to depend on this reliable, highly portable format — driving the proliferation of PDFs across every industry, vertical and region in the world.

As a result of this reliablity, PDFs have become the ubiquitous currency of digital document sharing — simple, secure, and designed to look and behave exactly the same way on any device.

But in some ways, the format’s very versatility has turned into an unexpected limitation, by enabling a whole ecosystem of third-party developers to distort and downgrade the true potential of the PDF experience.

Here’s why, after all these years, Acrobat still remains the only gold standard for PDF experiences.

Adobe released the PDF format as an open standard in 2008, but developers continue to limit its power

In a sense, the PDF represented the very first step in the process of digital document transformation — preserving the fidelity of printed paper across every device and operating system, in an age when most digital files were severely lacking in cross-device consistency and compatibility.

Now that the PDF format has grown into an open standard, it boasts even more ubiquity than ever. Today’s end user enjoys a wide range of options when it comes to opening a PDF — from desktop and web-based readers to email providers, mobile apps, and even API integrations.

But while this wide range of options might seem like a clear benefit for the end user, the truth is that most third-party apps and integrations only give the user access to a small fraction of their PDFs’ true capabilities. This represents a significant problem for two major reasons:

Let’s take a closer look at how sloppy third-party software turns straightforward PDF experiences into confusing mazes of contradictory options.

Third-party apps create pointless roadblocks in the PDF experience

From the moment you receive a PDF document — say, a contract or a form to sign — you’ve got to make time-consuming decisions about where to save and open it, how to fill it out, how to e-sign it, and how to return it to the sender with all the necessary information included.

Maybe you open the file within your email service provider (ESP) — only to discover that the app’s PDF reader doesn’t permit you to type new info into the file. Straight off the bat, you’ve immediately hit a frustrating roadblock.

So you click over to an e-signing platform and upload the PDF there. But to sign it, you’ve got to create (or sign into) your account on that platform, enter the required info, then download the same PDF a second time in order to forward it onward for someone else’s signature.

Every step of this process involves accessing multiple accounts on third-party apps and websites, filling out information that’s saved in several different locations and formats, e-signing in ways that may not be universally compatible, verifiable or secure — while the whole time, you’ve got to try to remember which of your apps include which PDF-related functionality.

The most ridiculous aspect of this whole experience, though, is that it’s completely unnecessary — because every single piece of the above functionality comes packaged within the Adobe PDF file experience itself.

Adobe makes it easy to share, review, and collaborate within the PDF experience

Today, you can use Acrobat to share direct links to a PDF file for free, bypassing the limited features of third-party software. This means when you receive a link to a PDF, you can open that file from any device or browser and immediately tap into the full Acrobat experience — filling in form fields, e-signing, and taking advantage of all the format’s other built-in capabilities.

But the free collaborative power of Acrobat extends far beyond this. It’s now possible to share documents and collect feedback on a single PDF from all your review team members — across every device and OS. You can easily keep track of who’s seen or commented on a PDF, and set automatic reminders for reviews and signatures.

Best of all, every byte of this information is saved within the PDF file itself — which means your entire team can collaborate in real time on the same document, then archive changes and comments locally for auditing, contracting or other purposes. No matter where that file gets moved, your entire editorial process automatically stays organized in one single PDF file. And because your original file remains original, version control is never an issue.

For all these reasons, while there are many ways to open a PDF, there’s only one way to experience the PDF format’s full power — and that’s through Adobe Acrobat. Learn more in the next blog of this four-part series, where we’ll take a deeper dive on how PDFs are revolutionizing digital document collaboration.

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