PDF Documents

Adobe Systems introduced the Portable Data Format (PDF) to the world through its Acrobat product. Today it has become a standard for document interchange, especially on the web, and is shared by the Windows, UNIX and MAC platforms.

I would imagine that many of you already have the Adobe Reader product since it is essential for reading and printing so much of the documentation available at the different websites. If you've ever been to the IRS website for a tax form or its instructions, you already know about PDF. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure, I'll offer a link to Adobe so that you can download it. It is free and is available as a PC-based program and also as a browser plug-in.

An outstanding characteristic of PDF is that it reproduces material so very true to the original it was made from. The material it reproduces is quite varied, ranging from tax forms to complete manuals rich in graphics, colors, and photographs. I will show you some examples shortly.

A primary value of PDF to the document author is the 'worry-free' distribution that such a standard enables. Can you imagine sending 10 million people a MS Word document? (Well not this decade anyway.) The IRS must save considerable cost over the more traditional way of getting forms to us.

However, there are other advantages to PDF as implemented by the Adobe Acrobat product. Foremost is that its documents can be interactive with the user. They can have hypertext links from the contents page to a target page and can contain interactive forms. PDF is also 'web ready' in that a link in the document can take you to a URL on the web just as easily as to a reference within itself.

Before I offer you an example, I'll provide a few tips on dealing with a PDF link. A PDF 'link' is a reference in an HTML page to a file called xxx.pdf. It could be at a remote location or imbedded directly in your HTML page, just like a graphic. If you click on it, any of several things can happen.

If your browser has a plug-in to support it or if you have Adobe Acrobat installed on your computer and it is designated as an application to your browser as handling the PDF extension, then the file will download to the application and you'll be immediately viewing it. If on the other hand, you have no support whatever for it, you'll receive a dialogue box from your browser which is roughly equivalent to the following:

You would then indicate 'Save File'. Your browser might first give you a security warning advising of the perils of downloading a file. After the download you would need to have the standalone (non-plugin) Acrobat Reader installed to view/print the file later.

Important note: If you don't want to view or print the document immediately, don't click its link, but instead use the right mouse button and you'll be presented with a pull-down menu, where you can "save link as ..." or "save target as ...", and then view the PDF file later.

OK, ready to try it? Here's 'Form W4' from the IRS, right here on my web site. If you've never done so, print one of the pages and see how close it is to the original. Place your mouse on this button and you'll see it's a PDF file. If you don't have Adobe Acrobat Reader yet, then right-click the link and download it for later (it's small)  . If you're not sure, just click the link and see what happens.

If you're interested in this technology, I'll provide you a link to the PDF section of Adobe's web site  where you can read all about it and  the last thing I'd like to do here is briefly identify what's included with the complete Adobe Acrobat product.

The product is called just plain 'Adobe Acrobat' and includes:

Acrobat Reader (separate CD-ROM) with restricted permission to redistribute

Acrobat Exchange - used when desired to mark up a document that's already converted to PDF. Notations can be added, hypertext links, forms fields, and many other embellishments.

Acrobat PDFWriter - installs as a 'virtual printer' icon, just like a fax printer. This is a very powerful feature which enables you to take text and graphics from any Windows program and convert it directly to a PDF file. It does a really nice job. To show you how easy it is to convert anything to a PDF file,  I took a JPG picture of my three cats and printed it directly to PDFWriter.  If this interests you, here are the 2 files if you want to compare them: (84K, 261K)

Acrobat Distiller -  utility which will convert a postscript (PS) file to PDF. It's also used when a file won't print well using PDFWriter because of complex graphics or because it has a PS file within it.

Acrobat Exchange Capture Plug-In - performs an OCR function against a previous created or scanned document in PDF format.

Acrobat Catalog - indexes one or more documents and creates a searchable database for users of Acrobat Reader with the 'search' plug-n.

So, as you can see there's a lot to this product. Hopefully I've given you sufficient perspective on what it can do for you so that you'll be ready when the need presents itself.

Adobe no longer offers subscriptions to their periodic magazine but if you'd like to read back issues use this link.