Mark Stephens Mark has been working with Java and PDF since 1999 and is a big NetBeans fan. He enjoys speaking at conferences. He has an MA in Medieval History and a passion for reading.

Reflections on 19 years writing PDF software in Java

2 min read

IDRSolutions was setup on St. Andrews Day (30th November) 1999 (as you would expect from someone with a Mediaeval History degree from the University of St. Andrews). When I set it up I was only expecting it to last a few years (so in a sense the joke is on me).

At the time, I was working at News International and had written some custom software to help News International (publishers of the Times and The Sun newspapers) to connect their traditional publishing systems to their new Internet systems. That software was called Storypad, and was used until 2008. Like many interesting software developments, it actually resulted from the code I wrote as a student for my MSc in Computing and Information Systems at the University of Greenwich.

As a result, I suddenly had a Software Company, some revenue and an interest in publishing and documents. I was really interested in Java and PDF documents were the common format in publishing. There were some Java libraries to handle PDF files (like IText) but nothing to display them, so our first product was JPedal – a library for Java Developers who needed to view PDF files, print, search, or convert them into images. 19 years later, JPedal is still going strong and in use around the world. We were particularly proud when Adobe (who invented PDF) decided to use it in ColdFusion and licensed our PDF library from us…..

In creating JPedal, we found that we had solved a lot of Image issues which Java has like incomplete support for JPEG files, and lots of frustrations with other Image libraries such as JAI and ImageIO. So we put that code into a separate product called JDeli for other developers.

Over time the market has changed and most people now use browsers to display their documents, not Java Viewers. So we created BuildVu, a new product to convert PDF files into high quality HTML5. 70% of the world’s documents are still PDF but developers need an easy way to convert them into HTML5 so they can be displayed in the Viewer and integrated into their SaaS applications.

Java is still very popular, and now reached version 11. Many developers also want to use other languages these days, so we have been putting a lot of work into making it easy to use our software from other languages and posting it on our support site or github.

The PDF file format is now a mature ISO standard and we are involved in the specification. It is still the world’s most popular document format (and we are still tweaking our parser after all these years to handle odd files people create).

I have always been a big fan of NetBeans IDE to write my code in, and I am really pleased to see this is now an Open Source project and one we are actively involved in. We do talks at CodeOne, organise NetBeans events, and currently home to the Duke award NetBeans won  this year….

IDRsolutions is a very familiar and very different Company from the one I founded in 1999. These days I am privileged to work as part of a really amazing team who are far brighter, far more talented and far cooler than me but help to keep me constantly challenged and always pushing me to learn and improve. But I think we have still kept our work ethic, our passion and enthusiasm, desire to always be learning, our high standards and our sense of  fun. The last 19 years have been an amazing experience for me, but I think the best is still to come….


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Mark Stephens Mark has been working with Java and PDF since 1999 and is a big NetBeans fan. He enjoys speaking at conferences. He has an MA in Medieval History and a passion for reading.

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