110. Using PDF
By Andrew D. Wright
Whenever I try and open an attachment that is a PDF I get a screen showing
a bunch of indecipherable letters and characters. How can I set up my
email so that attachments will open in plain English?
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A PDF file uses Adobe Systems' Portable Document Format to store words and
pictures in a convenient format that a number of different programs can
view. The most widely known of these viewer programs would be Adobe
Systems own Acrobat Reader, a free program available for Windows,
Macintosh and Linux that allows users to open and read PDF files.
When you install the Adobe Acrobat Reader program it should associate
itself with the .pdf file extension so your mail program would then
automatically call it to open a PDF file. Your web browser would get a
plugin that would let it open any PDF files you encounter on the web in
the browser window.
Without a program like the Acrobat Reader installed on your computer, you
cannot read the PDF file format.
PDF files are in common use all over the internet from online editions of
magazines and newspapers to annual reports and brochures. Halifax's Metro
Transit website distributes route information as PDF files.
Unlike web pages which can look very different depending on what web
browser and operating system you use, a PDF file will always look the same
to all users.
PDF files can also be encrypted and password protected for security,
contain Digital Rights Management software for a degree of copy protection
(depending upon the viewer software), and even "phone home" to report the
IP address of the computer viewing the PDF file.
There is a tendency for less experienced webmasters to substitute PDF
files for content on web pages when it isn't necessary. The main
disadvantage is that users can quickly click through content on web pages
while a PDF file requires time for the PDF viewer plugin to run, the PDF
file to be downloaded and then more time for the file to be opened by the
There are a number of programs that can write PDF files or export files
from other formats to PDF. Adobe Systems give away their Acrobat Reader
program but charge money for the full Acrobat software package that
creates PDF files.
The free word processor program OpenOffice.org Writer can open, create and
edit documents as .doc or .odt files then save them to PDF format.
Users of Microsoft Office 2007 can download a free "save as PDF" plugin
Adobe has updated the open standard PDF format eight times since bringing
it out in the early 1990s, once for each version of their Acrobat
software. They are currently working on a new PDF format code-named Mars,
which creates XML representations of PDF documents for greater future
compatibility transferring data between different devices.
Adobe Systems website:
Microsoft Office 2007 PDF plugin:
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Originally published 10 June 2007