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Open a PDF

Open a PDF
Illustration: Gordon McAlpin

So what is a PDF, anyway? It stands for Portable Document Format, and is a type of file that’s meant to be read in its original format on any computer or device, anywhere. Invented by Adobe Systems, PDFs are pretty much universal standard files, especially for documents with graphics and special formatting.

Opening a PDF to view requires special software. Most users go for Adobe Reader, as it’s free. A lot of people will read PDFs directly in their browser, and Adobe also offers a free plug-in for all browsers that allows them to do so. Downloading the stand-alone Reader app will automatically put the plug-in into all browsers you have installed, or you can install the plug-in manually by going to the browser’s plug-in page.

Now, say you want to create or edit PDFs, or convert another format into PDF. You could buy Adobe’s commercial software, Adobe Acrobat, but that costs hundreds of dollars. A much lower-cost alternative comes from our friends at Nitro. Nitro Pro 7 is less than half the cost of Acrobat. There’s also a free version called Primo PDF that includes some light editing and conversion to PDF.

As far as other free PDF creators, I like PDF995, though it has a few popup ads when using the software; it works very well for combining and converting files into PDF. You can even make small edits to existing PDFs.

If you’re using Microsoft Office 2007, you can install this add-on to print to PDF. This is a handy way to turn a Word document into something that will be readable on different machines. Office 2010 and later has this functionality built in.

For the majority of us, though, reading PDFs is enough, and for that, the free Adobe Reader will work fine.

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