Portable Document Format is a file format developed by Adobe Systems. PDF captures formatting information from a variety of applications, making it possible to send formatted documents and have them appear on the recipient's monitor or printer as they were intended. PDF also allows for a convenient read-only version of a document.

To view a file in PDF format, the original choice was Adobe Reader, a free application distributed by Adobe Systems. Originally Adobe's plan was to charge a fee for their PDF creating software, but to distribute the Adobe (PDF) Reader for free. Now a number of readers are becoming available, such as Foxit Reader (below).

Zooming: Effective viewing of documents involves a knowledge of some of the Adobe Reader toolbar buttons. To resize the viewable area of the document, use the Zoom tool button (screenshot). For instance, 100% zoom is the actual document size, but the zoom can be dropped to 50% to make it fit a smaller screen or 200% to make it easier to read.

Selecting text: When a new document is opened, the default on-screen cursor tool is the Hand tool. This means that holding down the left mouse button on the document allows it to be dragged around the screen, mainly for scrolling up and down. However, by clicking on the Select tool, the user can then highlight text with a mouse stroke and by right-clicking on the highlighted text, copy it for pasting into another application (see above screenshot). The Snapshot tool is similar to the Select tool, but can be used for highlighting large amounts of text for copying. The Snapshot tool preserves the original formatting, whereas the Select tool doesn't.

There is a problem which occurs when converting .doc files to .pdf. If the original document file contains hyperlinks which stretch to more than one line (screenshot), then the PDF conversion process seems to truncate the URL to the part which appeared on the first line only; the rest of the weblink gets lost! A search of the internet indicates that this is a common problem with a variety of doc to pdf converters.

One solution is to convert that long URL to a shorter one and this is a service offered by http://tinyurl.com. Simply copy and past the long weblink into the box which says "Enter a long URL to make tiny:" and TinyURL will convert this to a shorter link (screenshot). The link remains active indefinitely and can be used to replace the original long weblink, which will then resist truncation during the dastardly PDF conversion process.

Adobe give away their PDF Reader for free, to encourage users to purchase their software for creating PDFs in the first place. Adobe Reader is fine, but as time goes by the 'bloatware' factor of subsequent versions gets worse and the simple PDF reader becomes a larger install, with more features than many users really need. If you long for the simplicity of 'just a PDF reader', then try out the open source Foxit Reader..

The whole point about PDFs is they're supposed to be a read-only, universal document format. Sometimes however, it's useful to be able to modify the contents. One way to do this is to purchase the Adobe or Foxit Pro software for creating PDF files. Another way is to convert the PDF to a .doc file, after which it is fully editable. Well now this can be done online, for free. Your wombatty little chum has just returned from testing an online conversion service located at Zamzar.com. Just use the uploader to browse for the file, select from a head-spinning array of file format conversion options and supply an email address for Zamzar to send the download link to.

Originally the proprietary Adobe software was the only option for editing existing PDFs. However there are now a number of free alternative applications which can create PDF files, including PDF995 and more recently, doPDF.

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