Help      |      Chebucto Home      |      News      |      Contact Us     

110. Using PDF

By Andrew D. Wright

Dear Mousepad:

Whenever I try and open an attachment that is a PDF I get a screen showing a bunch of indecipherable letters and characters. How can I set up my email so that attachments will open in plain English?

Paige Giles
Dartmouth, N.S.

One of our very cool limited edition Chebucto mousepads is in the post to you for your question.

A PDF file uses Adobe Systems' Portable Document Format to store words and pictures in a convenient format that a number of different programs can view. The most widely known of these viewer programs would be Adobe Systems own Acrobat Reader, a free program available for Windows, Macintosh and Linux that allows users to open and read PDF files.

When you install the Adobe Acrobat Reader program it should associate itself with the .pdf file extension so your mail program would then automatically call it to open a PDF file. Your web browser would get a plugin that would let it open any PDF files you encounter on the web in the browser window.

Without a program like the Acrobat Reader installed on your computer, you cannot read the PDF file format.

PDF files are in common use all over the internet from online editions of magazines and newspapers to annual reports and brochures. Halifax's Metro Transit website distributes route information as PDF files.

Unlike web pages which can look very different depending on what web browser and operating system you use, a PDF file will always look the same to all users.

PDF files can also be encrypted and password protected for security, contain Digital Rights Management software for a degree of copy protection (depending upon the viewer software), and even "phone home" to report the IP address of the computer viewing the PDF file.

There is a tendency for less experienced webmasters to substitute PDF files for content on web pages when it isn't necessary. The main disadvantage is that users can quickly click through content on web pages while a PDF file requires time for the PDF viewer plugin to run, the PDF file to be downloaded and then more time for the file to be opened by the viewer software.

There are a number of programs that can write PDF files or export files from other formats to PDF. Adobe Systems give away their Acrobat Reader program but charge money for the full Acrobat software package that creates PDF files.

The free word processor program Writer can open, create and edit documents as .doc or .odt files then save them to PDF format.

Users of Microsoft Office 2007 can download a free "save as PDF" plugin from Microsoft.

Adobe has updated the open standard PDF format eight times since bringing it out in the early 1990s, once for each version of their Acrobat software. They are currently working on a new PDF format code-named Mars, which creates XML representations of PDF documents for greater future compatibility transferring data between different devices.


Adobe Systems website:

Microsoft Office 2007 PDF plugin:


The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about computing, email or click here. If we use your question in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.


The Mousepad Index


Originally published 10 June 2007


Our community is online here!


A feature of the Halifax Herald