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
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 www.adobe.com/products/
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 www.irs.ustreas.gov/formspubs.
Many states, including Maryland tax forms (http://individuals.marylandtaxes.com),
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 http://createpdf.adobe.com/index.pl,
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 http://www.pdfstore.com/books.asp,
or check out the conferences and training schedules at www.planetpdf.com
According to published reports this past summer, MIT (Massachusetts
Institute of Technology) launched the first phase of its "Open
Course Ware" project at http://ocw.mit.edu/index.html,
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 email@example.com
Jimmy R. Hammond, CPA, is a resident of Annapolis and a consultant to businesses in Annapolis, Baltimore and Washington D.C.