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Pondering the Purpose of PDF Files

PDF, as the name Portable Document Format implies, was developed by Adobe Systems as a means for digital file exchange. The main idea behind the file format is to enable all computer users to be able to open, review, and print the documents saved in it. This means that users who work on computers that don't have the software with which the files were originally created can still see the document as it was originally designed and laid out, including all its fonts and graphics.

The key to this digital file interchange is the nifty little software program known as Acrobat (although Adobe originally named it Carousel when it first appeared in 1993). A free form of this software, known as the Adobe Reader, is available from Adobe Systems for all the major personal computing devices and most versions of all the operating systems known to humankind. As of this writing, these forms include:

  • Microsoft Windows machines with the following versions: Windows 3.1, Windows 95 (OSR 2.0), Windows 98 SE, Windows Millennium Edition, Windows NT 4.0 (with Service Pack 5), Windows 2000, or Windows XP
  • Macintosh computers with version 7.5.3, 8.1-8.6, 9.1-9.2, or OS X of the Macintosh operating system
  • Palm handhelds with OS 3.0 or later
  • Pocket PC computers with Windows CE or Windows 2002
  • IBM AIX workstations with IBM AIX 4.2.1
  • HP 9000 Series workstations (model 700 or higher) with HP-UX 9.0.3
  • SGI workstations with Silicon Graphics IRIX 5.3
  • DEC workstations with DEC OSF/1, version 4
  • Sun Solaris SPARCStations with Sun OpenWindows 3.0 or later, Motif 1.2.3 or later, OpenLook 3.0, or CDE 1.0 or later
  • Computers running versions of Linux including Red Hat Linux 5.1 or Slackware Linux 2.0

Acrobat 6 and Adobe Reader are both major upgrades to the Acrobat software family. Consequently, backward-compatibility with older operating systems is limited. In order to run Acrobat 6 on Windows you must use one of the following operating systems: Microsoft Windows 98 Second Edition, Windows NT Workstation 4.0 with Service Pack 6, Windows 2000 Professional with Service Pack 2, Windows XP Professional or Home Edition, or Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. Macintosh users must use OS X versions 10.2.2-10.2.6.

All you have to do to get the appropriate version of Adobe Reader for your current operating system is point your browser to the Adobe Systems Web site. In the Step 1 of 2 area of the Adobe Reader download page choose your language, your connection speed (dial-up or broadband), and your computer platform. After you choose your computer platform, the Step 2 of 2 area appears. Note that the selections you make in Step 1 determine the version of Adobe Reader best suited for your computer system. If your current system is compatible with Adobe Reader you are offered two choices: either the Basic or Full versions if you chose dial-up as your connection speed, or Full if you chose broadband. The Basic version is 8.7MB and can typically take up to 30 minutes or more to download with a 56K modem. The Full version of Adobe Reader has enhanced features that are described in the Step 2 of 2 dialog box and weighs in at a hefty 15.3MB — not a big deal if you have broadband Internet access but worth the consideration if you use a modem to connect to the Web. After choosing your desired version of Adobe Reader, click the Download button. After downloading the Adobe Reader to the desktop of your computer platform, double-click the icon representing the compressed version of the program to unpack and install it on your computer.

After you install the Adobe Reader on your computer, you can then open, review, and print any PDF file that you get, regardless of what application programs were used in generating its text and graphics, and regardless of the computer platform on which these programs ran.

Adobe Reader comes in two versions with very different feature sets that you can compare during the process of downloading the program. Adobe also created not two, but three different versions of Acrobat 6: Professional, Standard, and Elements. In order to compare the different features of these products, Adobe provides an Acrobat family features matrix page on its Web site. Go to the Adobe's Web site to view this important information.

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