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PORTABLE DOCUMENTS

As the practice of distributing documents in electronic format proliferates (ePaper is the current buzzword), more and more computer users are faced with reading files sent to them, or found the web. ...


April 1, 2000
By Pulp & Paper Canada

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As the practice of distributing documents in electronic format proliferates (ePaper is the current buzzword), more and more computer users are faced with reading files sent to them, or found the web. The PDF format is the de facto standard, and has been officially adopted by many government organizations and companies.

“PDF” is an acronym for “Portable Document Format” that was developed by Adobe, the fourth largest software manufacturer for modern small computers.

Virtually any file that can be printed can be converted into PDF format using Adobe’s Acrobat software, and can be read and printed by any computer running with Adobe’s Acrobat Reader software. (Refer to sidebar on obtaining a free copy of Acrobat Reader.)

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WHY USE PDF?

The principal reason is so that anybody can read the file. However, there are other reasons.

Security: When distributing a report, training manual or other document electronically, if the original file format (WORD, Excel, Lotus etc), it is normally possible for the recipient to modify it easily, and without trace, for dishonest reasons. This can be a problem, particularly for sales literature or any document of legal significance. PDF files cannot be readily modified, and the person creating it can even arrange the file so that parts cannot be copied from it.

Reader’s convenience: Adobe Acrobat Writer software can create “bookmarks.”

If an original file is written by certain software, including Microsoft WORD, using the proper headings for chapter and section titles to generate an automatic table of contents, then bookmarks can be created. These bookmarks appear like a table of contents down the left margin of the PDF file, and if the reader clicks on any heading, the software jumps instantaneously to it. This is convenient for large files. If the bookmarks are not visible when you open a file with Acrobat Reader, then click on “window” and “show bookmarks”. The shortcut key is F5. (Not all PDF files contain bookmarks.)

Many PDF files have hyperlinks in them, which work just like a hyperlink on the web, and will jump to the point indicated by the link.This feature is of course available only if the user reads on his computer screen. This in turn requires a good quality screen, with at least 1024 x 768 resolution.

Quality: The readability of the file is much better than a FAX, and color graphs and pictures reproduce in full and accurate color.

File size: Adobe claims that PDF files are more compact than the originals. I find that this is usually true, but the extent varies. In small files, it does not matter, but large files with many graphics can be compressed by up to about 70%. In one case, converting a 1 Mb Word Perfect file containing plain text and two graphs, I found that I had a PDF file under 30 Kb. I never understood why this case was so successful.

WHO SHOULD HAVE ACROBAT READER?

Almost everyone should have Acrobat Reader installed, since it provides convenient access to so many documents. Sales literature, technical manuals and other documents normally provided on paper can be obtained more quickly by e-mail or from the Internet than waiting for hard copy to be shipped.

When Acrobat Reader is installed, it will usually log its presence with Windows, so that when you double click on any file with a “.PDF” extension to the filename, the Reader will load automatically, and display the file. If not, then open Reader like any other program, then open the file you want to read in the usual way.

Simply reading or printing a file from Reader is obvious, but a few tricks make life easier.

The most important one is that when scrolling down a file, Reader will normally take two screens to show a full page, unless you have a good quality, large, monitor. It has an annoying way of jumping from page to page. If you click on a very small rectangle in the bottom border, 2nd or 3rd from the right, you can select “continuous” display. I find this much easier to read. You can set this to be the default mode by clicking on file/preferences/general and selecting “continuous” for the Default page layout.

The size of the text appearing on your screen can be varied by selecting from the “view” menu at the top of the screen.

The on-line help is quite complete, although the indexing leaves a lot to be desired.

CREATING PDF FILES

The full version of Adobe Acrobat is required to create PDF files. It costs about $350 from Adobe at www.adobe.com, or major Canadian software dealers. There are more expensive versions for network use.

The software is easy to use, and half an hour with the on-line help will get anyone going. The manual comes as a PDF file, which there is no point in printing unless you want to read it in bed and do not have a laptop computer.

I found the Adobe’s sloth in issuing a bug fix for version 4.0 to be aggravating. Version 4 did not work with complex WORD files. Version 4.05 was slow in coming, and they even charged me $20 for the upgrade. I guess that is something you can get away with when you are the only supplier of key software. Version 4.05 has worked satisfactorily for us.

Once installed, it works simply by clicking on an icon.

To obtain Acrobat Reader, go to http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep.html and complete the form which defines what operating system you have, and the language you prefer. It is best to select the option “Include option for searching PDF files.”

The installation file is about 6.5 Mb, so should download in half an hour or so if you are using a modem connection. The file that you download is actually a program that will install Adobe Acrobat reader. Today it is called rs405eng.exe, but that will vary with the language, computer platform you choose and the version number. I normally download such files to a directory of their own, called “Downloaded Originals” and keep them for a while. This allows installing the software in several computers without downloading every time.

The current version is 4.05. If you have a version before 4, it is probably worth upgrading it, using the above procedure.


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