Consider This . . . Portable Document Format/PDF

Portable Document Format, or PDF, is a file format produced by the Adobe Acrobat program. Adobe Acrobat, which is about to turn 10, can trace its lineage to years of early work by Adobe founders Charles Geschke and John Warnock, when they were working at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC).

While at PARC, Geschke and Warnock invented the Page Description Language, or PDL. PDL is a language that could translate or describe complex forms and images, like typefaces, electronically and later became known as Interpress.

Xerox's lack of vision, interest in its work, and failure to commercialize their invention forced the pair to leave in 1982 and form the Adobe Company. By 1985, Interpress had fully evolved into Postscript or PDL language and, together with the Apple Computer Company, created the first desktop publishing system.

The fledgling Adobe Company, with 291 employees generating $16 million in sales, was poised to acquire and develop software on the way to becoming a graphic arts software behemoth. Adobe, Inc., now has more than 20 applications, supported by 3,000 employees worldwide, and generating $1.3 billion in sales as of 2001, under the old accounting rules.

To more properly define the PDF format, let me share with you the company's definition: "Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) is the open de facto standard for electronic document distribution worldwide. Adobe PDF is a universal file format that preserves all the fonts, formatting, graphics, and color of any source document, regardless of the application and platform used to create it. Adobe PDF files are compact and can be shared, viewed, navigated and printed exactly as intended by anyone with free Adobe Acrobat Reader software. You can convert any document to Adobe PDF using Adobe Acrobat 5.0 software."

According to Adobe, the PDF format is the emerging workflow standard in the $400 billion publishing industry. It also plays a key role in financial services, regulated industries, and government, with more than 155 agencies worldwide sharing Adobe files. This product was named by Computerworld in September 2002 as one of the top 35 technologies that helped shape the industry.

If you have been reluctant, for any reason, to download the free version of the Adobe Acrobat Reader, then stop reading this article, turn on your machine, log onto the Internet and go to acrobat/readstep.html and download the Reader. Then go to and check out the documents that you can download---or just read documents from this site, such as "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction---The Assessment of the British Government," a 35- page 492kb PDF document; or, the "Starr Report," a 455-page 17mb PDF document, and 3 minutes with Comcast cable. These documents illustrate the power of the PDF format, but further documentation is offered by Adobe. Adobe stated that it knew it had officially set the standard when the Internal Revenue Service used the PDF format to make all forms accessible on the Internet at Many states, including Maryland tax forms (, have also adopted this format.

In special areas of each library there are many forms that can actually be filled in, saved to your computer and printed at your convenience. The software features required to make documents interactive are not available in the free Reader---you must use Adobe Acrobat 5.0 to convert documents. At this writing, the program can be purchased on the Internet for $110 from several different vendors. If you want to try before you buy, Adobe will convert five documents free. Go to, register and follow the on-screen instructions. If you are not sure you are capable of converting your documents or don't want to take the time, Adobe has a $99 annual subscription plan. Adobe will convert unlimited documents according to the plan description.

If you are willing, the document conversion process is quite simple and can be enjoyable. The process is started by opening a PDF document or scanning in a document using the "import command" from the Adobe Acrobat file menu. Then select the "form tool" icon to select and format the blanks, boxes and lines that you want to make interactive in your form. The process is straightforward and is repetitive enough for you to quickly gain proficiency on your own. If you are a bit more challenged, then I would recommend Visual Quickstart Guide---PDF with Acrobat 5, by Jennifer Alspach, published by Peachpit Press, $20 at Barnes & Noble.

Don't forget to look at the application menu that you used to create your original document. Many programs, like Microsoft Word or Excel, now have "Save as PDF" file options built into the application or can be added by downloading the feature from Adobe. A good example is the income tax software I use. It will allow me to export a completed tax return as a PDF document. The file sizes are smaller than you think, which makes transferring files by e-mail quite easy.

If you would like to truly explore the ultimate potential of the PDF format, like embedded video and sound files, e-books, or the start of the paperless office, go to, or check out the conferences and training schedules at or According to published reports this past summer, MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) launched the first phase of its "Open Course Ware" project at, which, by the 2006-2007 school year, will make available all syllabi, lecture notes, exams and, in some cases, answers, along with some videotaped lectures, of all 2,000 undergraduate and graduate courses. All you need is an Internet connection and an Adobe Reader to fully access all this material FREE. You can't get a degree but, with self discipline, you could get everything any MIT student gets less the $26,960 tuition bill. MIT has resolved "to help raise the quality of higher education in every corner of the globe."

Make it your New Year's resolution to be PDF literate---you'll never regret it!

If you have comments or suggestions, or have an idea for a future computer or business topic, e-mail me at or

Jimmy R. Hammond, CPA, is a resident of Annapolis and a consultant to businesses in Annapolis, Baltimore and Washington D.C.


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