Computer Corner - September 2017

Everything You Probably Ever Need to Know about PDF Files

PDF documents are commonplace today:  paper manuals for software and hardware have mutated into online links for do-it-yourself PDF downloads. Read Me files, brochures, and other documents are also pervasive as downloadable PDFs. Entire websites exist to help liberate us from the tyranny of keeping paper documentation on hand.

So, it’s just a hazy memory for most of us to recall the days back in the early 1990s when you could only read PDFs if you had Adobe Reader installed, and if you wanted to create PDF files, you had to have Adobe Acrobat. Known by its full name, “Portable Document Format,” the PDF was Adobe System’s proprietary format until 1993 when the company made the file specification available to all for free.

Interestingly, it wasn’t until July 1, 2008, that the portable document format was released as an open standard for all to use. That’s when the floodgates opened to the dozens of third party PDF readers, viewers, creators,
editors, and file converters—both as free and paid versions.

But what’s so special about PDFs anyway?

First: They are compact files and can be viewed on just about any platform – create it on Windows and it is easily opened on Macs, Android, iOS, you name it.

Second: PDFs preserve your formatting, fonts and embedded images—even if you and/or the recipient do not have the particular fonts you used on your system.

Third: They are searchable, and with the right PDF app, can be shared collaboratively, edited with comments, and even used as fill-in forms.

Fourth: In addition, they are easily viewable in any Internet browser whether they arrive in an email message or are linked on a web page. This makes them genuinely portable because they're not tied to any specific application.

And finally: If the documents contain sensitive or copyrighted data, the PDF can also be password protected.

Windows 10 Handles PDFs Routinely Without Third Party Apps

This brings us to Windows 10, the first Windows OS with PDF creation capability built-in. In fact, in Windows 10, in any application which has a print command, you can turn any document into a PDF file. That means you don’t even have to install any additional software to get PDF power.

There is a proviso to Windows 10 PDF capabilities. The PDFs created by the native PDF tools in Windows 10 can only produce screen readable files which are great for viewing on a PC or tablet display but not all that good for crisply contrasting printed copies. If you want a higher level, better-than-draft printouts, or if you need to edit the Windows-produced PDFs, you will need any one of the dozens of third party PDF apps available for downloading on the Web.

Did I just say “dozens?” A Google search for PDF editor brought up 30 million results! Ouch. A comprehensive breakdown of the various PDF programs can be found at Wikipedia which breaks them down by their specific purpose - readers, viewers, creators, editors, and file converters.

But for most of our needs, a PDF reader like Foxit Reader will do the job, but it actually is much more than a simple
file viewer as the name Reader implies.

With Foxit Reader you can create PDFs, convert Microsoft Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations into PDFs, and scan documents into PDFs as well. Another one of its robust features is the ability to insert your signature into already existing PDF documents. The free download has much of the power of Adobe Acrobat without the nickel and dime pricing charged by Adobe or the easily overlooked apps it will install if you don’t uncheck boxes during setup.

It used to be that PDF documents were frequently used as a vehicle to transport malware hacks but most PDF software packages now protect against this intrusion with safe modes built in, the same type of intuitive, protective feature found in Microsoft Office.

Other Ways to View And Make PDF Documents
I have been using NitroPDF Professional for years but I would be hesitant to recommend it, if only because, like Adobe Acrobat, it’s expensive. It sells for $160. Fortunately, just like Adobe who has the full Acrobat product along with a free Adobe Acrobat Reader, NitroPDF now offers a slimmed down, free version that still retains some of the paid version’s versatile features. Dubbed NitroPDF Reader, it allows us to convert other file types to PDFs, extract images from documents, edit text in a PDF, and add comments for collaboration, and insert your actual signature into PDF documents. Like other readers, when selected as the default, it can be embedded in a browser as a plug-in.

You don’t even have to load a third-party PDF reader if all you want to do is create PDFs from web pages or other apps. The printer utility GreenPrint can do that for you while saving paper and ink. While GreenPrint, is not free, its $19 investment pays back quickly. It works as a virtual printer overlay to any printer you have. As an overlay, it lets us manipulate the print jobs before they go to the actual printer on your system. By manipulate I mean we can cherry-pick what actually gets printed – cut out images, remove particular paragraphs or columns of text. If you select PDF, it will save the file as a PDF for immediate or later printing on whatever printer you send it to.

What I particularly like about GreenPrint’s capability to remove ink-hungry images before printing is that it saves paper, ink and toner. You can save even more ink by selecting “Black Only” from the toolbar ribbon. Getting to choose which pages to eliminate from the print job is another thrifty way to save on ink and paper. GreenPrint even has a counter to show how much paper you are saving after you “edit’ before clicking print.

SlimPDF Reader Keeping It Simple and Small
Weighing in at just 1.43MB, SlimPDF Reader is a tiny and still remarkably efficient desktop PDF reader. For folks who want a basic PDF viewer, the truthfully named SlimPDF is a best bet. Beyond just reading and printing, the feature set of this free application is the ability to search words and phrases, magnify pages, and fluid document navigation.

The virtue of SlimPDF is its small PC footprint, negligible use of system resources, and its lack of advanced features. This is perfect for anyone who just needs the basics. Downloading the app will include come-ons for more advanced features like creating PDFs and converting PDFs to Office documents, but if you want those, stick with the other programs I mentioned. This is the app to keep it simple. Period.

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