A brief history of PDF

I have found in my travels that PDF is not very well understood on campus. I’ll try to clear up some of this confusion.

PDF is a file format that is essentially a virtual printout. It looks the same on each computer on which it is opened. Pagination, margins, fonts, and layout are all very consistent from place to place when you save a document as PDF. This means that a form or brochure that has been professionally done is best distributed as PDF.

Another reason to save files as PDF is that anyone can download a free PDF reader application. That means that you don’t have to worry about whether someone outside campus has Microsoft Word 2003 software.

Adobe sells software to create and modify PDF documents. This software allows you to make fillable forms that can be distributed and submitted electronically. Adobe provides a very nice comment markup system that can even work when people have the lowly free Reader application.

In most departments there is no need to pay for the Adobe software. We can use a free solution called PDF Creator that acts as a virtual printer. Any document or application that has a “print” option can then be turned into a PDF. This is a better option than scanning to PDF on a copy machine. This is because a copy machine takes a photographic image of your text. The resulting PDF is really just a picture, so you can’t cut or copy the text from it. This problem is resolved by using PDF Creator.

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