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    PDFs make a favourable impression on business

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2003 First published in Business in Vancouver October 21-27, 2003: High Tech Office column

    When we were getting our house painted this past summer, our housepainter sent his estimate in PDF format. PDF files retain font and formatting information even on computers where the original fonts aren’t present, making them an increasingly popular way to distribute all sorts of documents.

    There are a number of good reasons to prefer PDF format to, say, Microsoft Word documents. Once created from virtually any document that you could print, PDF files are difficult to change, handy in an estimate and for many other business documents. Moreover, Word documents include a lot of junk: information about the creator, text of past revisions, and more. While not displayed on screen, a savvy user can take a peek, sometimes with embarrassing consequences. And Word documents can be infected with any of a number of macro viruses.

    If your file includes graphics the PDF version of the file is usually quite a bit smaller than the original Word version. For all these reasons, PDF files have become a common a way to distribute manuals and forms online and to send ads or other documents out for printing.

    Out of the box, though, your computer won’t let you create these handy PDF documents. (Unless you have a recent Mac; any program running under Mac OS X can create a basic PDF document right from the Print dialogue box). You’ll need PDF-savvy software.

    Until recently, that meant Adobe Acrobat: the full version, not the free Reader. But now, according to Adobe, over 1800 companies make products that can work with the format. These include my painter’s estimating software, the latest version of Corel’s Word Perfect, and even the open source Open Office free office suite.

    While there are now lots of options for creating bare-bones PDF files, Adobe’s Acrobat software goes well beyond creating an on-screen version of your document. With its latest generation, Acrobat 6.0, Adobe is offering three versions of the software. Acrobat Elements is cheapest (about $40) and most basic, but is only available to organizations buying 1,000 or more licenses.

    Alternatively, consider Acrobat Standard ($455) or Professional ($683). Interface improvements make the new versions easier to use than their predecessors. Like the Elements version, each adds itself as a virtual printer, for simple PDF creation from any program. As well, toolbar icons are added to Microsoft Office programs and Internet Explorer for even easier PDF’ing. Within the main Acrobat program, you can opt to create files of varying qualities or optimize for smallest file size, and can combine multiple files into a single PDF document.

    Document-reviewing tools can be used to simplify sending your work out for comments (assuming your reviewers all have full versions of Acrobat). When you get back their feedback, it can be imported into the original PDF file.

    The Paper Capture feature can be used to control your scanner, scanning paper documents and converting them into searchable PDF-formatted digital files. Both versions allow users to encrypt or password-protect documents, or to control whether they can be printed or whether text or graphics can be copied to the Clipboard.

    The more expensive Professional version adds tools aimed at graphics and printing professionals, including a PDF Optimizer tool to optimize files for press or Web output. This version can also produce colour separations, registration and bleed marks and colour bars, useful for professional printing. As well, this version includes options for creating electronic forms and adds one-button PDF creation to Autocad, Microsoft Project, and Visio software.

    Not all advanced features, such as the document assembly tools, are included in the Mac versions; perhaps this is revenge by Adobe for Apple building basic PDF creation into its OS X operating system.

    But if you’re creating PDF files for online viewing, remember that documents designed to be viewed on lengthwise on paper really don’t work very well viewed on-screen. Acrobat includes options to optimize for screen vs print. Learn to use them

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan