BOOT CAMP ARCHIVE 2003

  

 

BOOT CAMP 292 (16/09/03)

 

Portable Documents

 

Suppose that you are the secretary of a club or society and want to distribute your monthly newsletter to members but you’ve no way of knowing how many of them have Windows PCs, or the facility to read documents created on your word processor.

 

Clearly it’s not a problem if the newsletter is a simple affair, written in plain text, in which case it can be sent in the body of an email or as a text file attachment. But what happens if the newsletter contains illustrations or special characters?

 

This week we’re looking at the portable document format (PDF), an easy way to send any kind of document by email that can be viewed on almost any PC, irrespective of the operating system or browser, email or any word processing software (if any) it might have.

 

Over the past few years PDF has become the de-facto standard for ‘multi-platform’ document processing, from instruction manuals on CD-ROM to sending lengthy reports and price lists over the Internet. You’ve probably already encountered PDFs whilst installing programs or surfing the web. The first time you click on a link to a PDF a message appears telling you that you need to install or download a freeware program called Adobe Acrobat Reader.

 

Acrobat Reader lets you view PDF documents like web pages but with the addition of several useful tools, for magnifying or reducing the size of the display to fit your screen and navigating the document via ‘thumbnails’ and text searches. You can also save and print PDF files for reading later and like web pages they can include hyperlinks to other parts of the document or web pages.

 

PDF files tend to be small – compared with web pages -- so they are quicker to send and receive, they can be created on almost any program that has a print facility and to date no virus has been known to infect a PDF document. Unlike web pages PDFs are not changed in any way, so you see the document exactly as it was intended moreover PDF files can be ‘locked’ so that text and illustrations can’t be copied or altered. Incidentally, PDF is a variant of the PostScript printing language, which describes what’s on the page, without reference to any particular printer. In addition to its flexibility text and images are sharper and colours more accurate, which is why it is widely used in the publishing and printing industry.

 

Most PC owners have Acrobat Reader installed on their machines so reading PDF files is not a problem but how do you go about creating them? The professional solution is Adobe Acrobat but there’s a good selection of freeware and shareware utilities available, so let’s see what’s involved and have a go at producing PDF documents on your PC.

 

Step one is to make sure that you have Acrobat Reader installed on your PC, the chances are you have but if not you can download the latest version from: www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html

 

Step two, download and install a PDF creation tool. There are plenty to choose from but for beginners I suggest a freeware program called Pdf995. It’s actually a suite of programs but to get started you only need two files, Pdf995 Printer Driver and a Converter utility, which you will find at: http://www.pdf995.com/. On the same site you will also find Pdfedit995 editing tool and Signature995 encryption utility; by all means download them for later but they’re not necessary for basic PDF production.

 

Save both files in a newly created folder and click on each one in turn to automatically unzip and install them. Next launch your word processor (though it works with any program with a Print facility) and open a test document, preferably one with a couple of pictures or clipart illustrations.

 

Now go to the file menu and select Print, this opens the normal printer dialogue box, click the drop-down menu showing your default printer and select PDF995 then click OK (make sure ‘Print to File’ is not selected). The ‘Save As’ dialogue box opens, choose the folder into which your file will be saved, give it a name (it should already have the extension *.PDF) and click Save. A browser window will open; this is an advertising feature in Pdf995 and you can close it or avoid seeing it in future by registering the program for a not unreasonable $9.95 (or $19.95 for the whole suite).   

 

To check if it has worked open Windows Explorer, navigate to the folder where your PDF is stored and click on it; all being well it will open Acrobat Reader, your document will be displayed in all it glory.

 

Next week – Paranoia

 

JARGON FILTER

 

ENCRYPTION

Scrambling files to make them unreadable without appropiate software or a decryption key

 

HYPERLINK

Coloured and underlined word(s) in a document; clicking on the link takes you to another part of the document or opens a web page

 

UNZIP

Opening a ‘zipped’ file where the data has been compressed to make it smaller and hence faster to send over the Internet

 

TIP OF THE WEEK

Here are a few tips to make Adobe’s Acrobat Reader even easier to use. You can go quickly to a specific page by entering the number in the page display at the bottom of the page or press Ctrl+N to bring up the page number navigation window. Instead of using the magnifying glass icons to increase or reduce the magnification press the Ctrl key and the plus (+) or minus (-) buttons on your keyboard. When reading a long document note the page you’re on before you click on a link, when you click the Back/Previous button you may go back to the beginning.

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