Debenu Continues to Forge Ahead With PDF Software Development Kits for Mobile
Melbourne, Victoria – May 16, 2014
YESTERDAY, Karl De Abrew brought cost-effective PDF creation and editing tools to the masses as founder and CEO of Nitro PDF Software. Today, as CEO and co-founder of Debenu, he works to democratize the creation of the tools themselves with Debenu’s flagship developer product, Debenu Quick PDF Library. Tomorrow, continuing that mission will mean going mobile, which is exactly where Debenu is heading; the team is currently hard at work adding native support for building iOS and Android applications.
One striking thing about Debenu is that it strives to make other people look good. Debenu Quick PDF Library lets software engineers build solutions around PDF without having to learn all of the ins and outs of the documentation standard. That means that, while its technology drives countless software solutions, “Debenu” isn’t generally the name splashed in big letters across the screens of end users when they fire up the resulting applications.
In De Abrew’s words, “Consider the old saying about teaching a man to fish. This is the next logical step. If Nitro’s business was selling fishing rods, Debenu’s mission is to give you everything you need to make your own.”
Behind the scenes, Debenu technology powers large-scale solutions implemented by the likes of American Airlines, Bank of America, Disney, General Motors, Hewlett Packard, IBM, the US Department of Defense, the US Department of Energy, the U.S District Courts, Samsung, Brother and Microsoft. Of course, working hard and making others better is a lifelong habit for De Abrew, and it’s really no surprise that this generous diligence is reflected in his current endeavour.
The former green beret was a lieutenant in good standing when he left the Australian Army in 2001. As a cadet and later reservist, he saved the seed money for his first business while sleeping on the floor between evening and graveyard shifts working in the financial services industry. All the while, he was also completing his Bachelor of Digital Systems degree with Melbourne-based Monash University.
In 1997, he founded his first business to handle contract work building custom software solutions, taking on the dual roles of CEO and co-lead developer. After completing
several projects based around the PDF documentation technology, De Abrew’s fledgling company turned its attention to the creation of retail-level PDF software products. The spiritual and, in some cases, literal successors of these original products are reflected in the current range of Debenu desktop products.
In those days, the PDF software market was composed mainly of third-party (i.e., independent) developers who made add-ons (known as “plug-ins”) for Adobe Acrobat, the 800-lb gorilla of the PDF world. In an effort to provide such independent vendors (including his own business) with an accessible retail channel, De Abrew oversaw the founding of PDF Store in 1999. PDF Store was undoubtedly a boon to independent PDF software vendors and their customers, who now had a central location to trade in PDF tools. Nevertheless, De Abrew’s generosity is perhaps best reflected in his tireless devotion to the PDF community.
In 1998, he founded Planet PDF, a hub that became a mainstay for the burgeoning PDF community. Due to his demonstrated expertise in PDF development, demand was high for De Abrew’s services as an expert writer, conference speaker and session chair at web sites and conferences around the world. Adobe, the original creator of the PDF format, solicited content from him for its own web site, and De Abrew and his small team briefly worked from the Adobe Systems offices in San Jose.
By 2005, the PDF industry had consolidated into a smaller number of larger players. As the industry became more saturated, Adobe had expanded the functionality of Acrobat to cover areas previously only available through the use of plug-ins. De Abrew’s company responded by releasing a competitively priced product that directly competed with Adobe Acrobat, Nitro PDF Professional. The software took off, and the entire company was re-structured — and renamed — later the same year to reflect its focus on the new application. Once the redefined company stablized somewhat, De Abrew left to found Debenu in 2007. His exit from what was then known as Nitro PDF Software was not entirely untroubled, however.
“I left eventually, once I had set up Nitro,” recalled De Abrew. “There were a number of reasons [for leaving the company], but having differing visions for the future of the company was a factor. I knew it was time to move onto the next challenge. I was still passionate about paperless technology, but I wanted to work with document organization and automation — move into a new area.”
As good as his word, Karl co-founded Debenu with long-term collaborator Rowan Hanna in 2007. They acquired the plug-ins originally developed with their previous company, which have ultimately evolved into part of today’s Debenu desktop products. The move that ultimately defined their new venture, however, was the acquisition of core technology that would eventually be built into Debenu’s flagship product, Debenu Quick PDF Library.
Clearly, the software development kit (SDK) is the apple of De Abrew’s eye,
“We’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished with Debenu Quick PDF Library. It’s already one of the best libraries out there for PDF developers, and we’re constantly adding new features and consolidating existing functionality.”
After spending the last 6 years refining Debenu Quick PDF Library — not to mention securing clients like Samsung, Brother and the Canadian Mounted Police — Debenu intends to take the SDK to the masses, according to De Abrew and Hanna. Clearly, they aren’t short on ambition.
“We’ve built Debenu Quick PDF Library into a first-class SDK. We want it to be the first or second name that developers think of when they decide to work with PDF,” said De Abrew, “and we want to let them offer their solutions to users on the go.”
Later this year, the new version of Debenu Quick PDF Library will add native support for mobile platforms like iOS and Android. This will allow developers to build powerful PDF-related functionality into their mobile apps, making roaming users and field agents more flexible than ever.
Also on the agenda is positioning the SDK as one that offers robust support for international standards governing the use of PDF for long-term archival (i.e., PDF/A). Such standards allow PDF creators to build document archives that can survive the specific technologies used to generate and view them. While nothing can necessarily be guaranteed to be completely “future-proof” adhering to the PDF/A standard makes electronic documents about as “future-resistant” as possible. This longevity is often a statutory requirement in many highly regulated environments, and constitutes best practice in others.
Ultimately, his path has seen twists, turns, collaborators, several re-definitions of the PDF specification and industry. According to De Abrew, though, all of this has been in service of his long-term plan.
The first step was evangelism. Grow the market and get people interested in the possibilities. As one industry pundit once out it,
“One day, having a conference about PDF will be like having a [portable storage] convention.”
In other words, PDF would become just an integral part of workflows rather than some neat new technology in search of a function. De Abrew’s work with the PDF community, through Planet PDF, conferences and the like has contributed to PDF’s current ubiquity, and official recognition as an official documentation standard.
Step two was to make PDF editing accessible to as many people as possible. Nitro PDF reflected efforts by De Abrew and his team to make this happen, offering a cost-effective alternative to the premium — in both functionality and price — Acrobat.
The third step was to democratize PDF creation and manipulation, by offering a product that allowed developers to build PDF-related features right into their own applications.
The next step? Go mobile by expanding into iOS and Android.
So far, De Abrew’s plan seems to be pretty well on track. Everyone uses PDF, Nitro PDF Software produces free and affordable options for working with PDF, and Debenu offers powerful resources for building one’s own PDF applications.
History makes De Abrew seem prescient if not visionary, and he and the Debenu team believe that Debenu Quick PDF Library is all set to become the workhorse powering PDF functionality in our iOS and Android devices. Given De Abrew’s record, would you bet against them?