There are numerous formats for e-books and other electronic documents, but PDF remains the most common and popular. Here’s the tools you need for reading and working with PDF without spending a fortune or succumbing to Adobe bloatware.
The PDF format was created by software company Adobe as a means of exchanging documents while retaining their formatting. It’s still widely used in publishing and magazine production, and is also often the format used for e-tickets and bills. And (fittingly given that it’s Book Week here on Lifehacker) it’s also often used for distributing electronic books, with support for reading PDF files built into most devices.
Despite its Adobe origins, you don’t need software from Adobe to read or create PDF files, and many users find that the free alternatives work better (as well as costing less). Mac and Linux users already have native PDF support within their OS, while for Windows users there are lots of alternatives.
Any web site which includes PDF files will invariably feature a link to download and install Adobe Reader, which can create the impression that it’s the only option. While Reader works well enough, its relatively high processor usage and frequent clunky updates mean it’s definitely worth considering alternatives.
Google has dramatically improved its handling of PDF files in search results in recent years, making it possible to view many files found in search results via its Google Docs viewer.
What if you want to save an existing document in PDF format? We’ve covered a number of specialist PDF creation tools in the past, including Print2PDF and MergePDF, and there are lots of commercial options. However, unless you have particularly complicated design needs, creating the document in your preferred word processor and then saving it as a PDF is the most straightforward option.
Free and open source office suite OpenOffice.org includes the ability to save files as a PDF as a standard feature. Microsoft’s Office suite was slower to make that possible, but has caught up in recent years. If you use Microsoft Word 2007, you can install an add-in to save files as a PDF. Service Pack 2 for Office 2007 includes this feature, so if you’re fully patched and up-to-date, it should already be present.
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