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Is free of charge worth it?

Company Blogs July 1, 2013 By Ruud Kluivers Staff


Twenty years ago, June 1993, Adobe introduced its Acrobat software for creating and viewing electronic documents. I was one of the ‘lucky’ IT journalists to be invited by Adobe’s PR agency to attend the press conference in London. Remember this was before internet, the world wide web and MS Windows were well known. It was not unusual to fly around Europe and spend the better part of a day to attend a press conference that lasted less than an hour and a half. John Warnock, one of Adobe’s founders, introduced Acrobat, he painted a future where exchanging and distributing information was seemless due to the ‘portable document format’. 


It was clear during the presentation that Adobe’s ambition was to set a standard with Acrobat and the PDF file format just as they had done with Postscript, digital typefaces and thus kickstarted the Desktop Publising Revolution. The ambition was nothing short of fullfilling the promise of the 'paperless office'?


Acrobat 1.0 was orginally only available for the Apple Macintosh. Apart from the full fledged Acrobat application Adobe also introduced a small application by the name of Acrobat Reader. At the time there were no other applications that could read, create and/or edit the PDF format. Adobe had choosen to price Acrobat Reader at $50 per user.


After the press conference I asked Mr. Warnock if Adobe had considered to make Acrobat Reader available for free, my reasoning was that to speed up adoption of Acrobat and the PDF format the consumer shouldn’t be restricted. Mr. Warnock answered that Adobe had considered this but that they had came to the conclusion “ Software that is free of charge is worth what you pay for it”! While nowadays Portable Document Format (PDF) is known as an open standard for document exchange. The file format is used for representing two-dimensional documents in a manner independent of the application software, hardware, and operating system. That wasn’t the case when Adobe introduces it.

In hindsight we can conclude that the initial slow adoption of PDF as a standard was due to the $50 price tag of Acrobat Reader and thus the failure of Adobe's senior management to see the bigger picture. It was only after Reader became available free of charge that the true value of the PDF format was unlocked.


For a technology and/or platform to florish it is essential there are as little restrictions as possible that could hamper the adoption. Creating value is not about making a quick buck it is about giving, free of charge.

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