Introduction to PDF Files

Today, PDF (Portable Document Format) is the normal format for documents that no longer need to be edited. You should think of them as "digital paper". If you keep that image in your mind, it will go a long way for you to understand the use of a PDF.

Here are some features of the PDF file:

  • The best thing about PDFs is that *anybody* can open them! You don't need to buy any program to read them, and they can be opened by any operating system. A person using a Macintosh can read PDF files created on a Windows Machine.
  • With a PDF, you can set special permissions on the file to prevent the document from being edited or even printed, which is useful if you need to maintain some security. You can even create a PDF file that can only be viewed by someone who knows the password!
  • There is a such thing as a "PDF Editor", such as Adobe Acrobat, but keep in mind that editing a PDF is not like editing the document in a word processing program. Since a PDF is like paper written in ink, then editing it is like using whiteout. That means that the edits are pretty much limited to cut-and-paste jobs, or little touchups. However, like paper, using a PDF Editor, you CAN rearrange pages, remove pages and other tasks pretty easily.
  • You should know, too that, since PDFs are like paper, you can "print" on them, just like paper! In fact, there is such a thing (if you don't know already) as a "PDF Printer". It installs just like any program and shows up as a regular printer in your list of real printers. So, instead of printing to your "HP Deskjet" or "Laserprinter", you can print to your "PDF printer" and create a digital printout (a PDF, that is) instead of a paper printout. A fellow named Ashraf over at dottech wrote an article about the best free PDF Printers. If you don't already have a PDF printer installed on your computer, you should add one. We recommend CutePDF, or BullZip because they are simple, but don't forget that you have to install the "Ghostscript" component, too, in order for it to work.
  • Like real paper, you can add sticky notes and markups to PDF files. Many people don't know or use this. But PDFs were designed so that you can give someone a draft of a document in PDF format, and then pass it on to another person. That other person can add markup to the document - that is, they can make notes and indicate corrections and make comments that get saved inside the PDF file. Then the reviewed document can be returned to the original person who can make the corrections in the orginal text document.
  • PDF files can include hyperlinks!
  • PDF files can contain macros - that is, little bits of code that "do" things - such as add totals together, or change text if you click on a button.
  • PDF files can embed fonts. That means that a PDF file can display a font that is not installed on the viewing computer. So you can create, for instance, a wedding invitation using Microsoft Word, and enable font embedding, and when you save it as a PDF file, when you send the PDF to someone else, the font will still be there.
  • You can let your computer READ a PDF file to you! It's true! In Adobe Reader, go to "View" in the menu bar, and select, "Read Out Loud".

Here are some other facts and tips:

  • Microsoft Office and Open Office can create PDF files without a PDF printer. Yup, it's built in.
  • The difference between Adobe Reader and Adobe Acrobat is that Adobe Acrobat is an editor whilst Adobe Reader is only a viewer.
  • Most PDF readers allow you to also view PDF files in your web-browser.
  • There are other PDF readers besides Adobe Reader, but since Adobe invented PDF, be assured that their reader is the only one guaranteed to work with all the sub-features of PDFs.

Working with PDF files

Having trouble with PDF files in your browser? Do they not render correctly? Can you not view the pdf file that you clicked on in a web page?

A few ideas and solutions for you:

  • Downloading PDF files.

    When you click on a link to a pdf file in your browser, the browser usually uses a pdf plugin to read the file. It first downloads the pdf file to a temporary cache location and then displays that downloaded file. Don't try to find that copy. Instead, if you want to save the pdf, you should use the "save" button in the pdf reader, and save it to your downloads folder or desktop or somewhere handy. However, another alternative is to Right-Click on the link and choose "Save Target As..." (or "Save Link As..."), which will give you the file save dialogue.
  • Change the default pdf viewer in Firefox.

    In Firefox, you can choose which pdf application to use. Go to Tools > Options > Applications and in the little filter box, type "pdf". You will see "Portable Document Format (PDF)" show in the "Content Type" column. If you choose "Use Adobe Acrobat in Firefox" - it will do just that, it will use Adobe Reader to render the pdf right in the browser - this is probaly what you want. However, you can also choose, "Use Adobe Reader" - which will open the pdf in the regular Adobe Reader outside the browser. Of course, you can choose the built-in viewer if you like, it is called, "Preview in Firefox".
    If you need more help with this, check out this link with directions for Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari and, well, Firefox.
  • Fix the Adobe Reader Screen-Reader Preferences.

    You may be getting a repetitive dialogue box that appears every time you open a file. This is Adobe Reader's screen reader asking for clarification. To make it "shut up", find your preferences: Edit > Preferences > Reading and find "Screen Reader Options" - set this box to "Only read the currently visible pages". Don't worry, it won't start reading anything, but if you do use the screen-reader, it will know not to read the entire document - AND, it won't give you that annoying message anymore.
  • Set the default display size for pdf files.

    Tired of pdfs always being bigger than the screen? Well, in Adobe Reader's preferences, you can set it to display the entire page when a pdf is opened.. To do this, go to Edit > Preferences > Page Display and find the "Default Layout and Zoom" area, and change the setting to for "Page Layout" to "Single Page".
  • Fix Choppy Text in Adobe Reader.

    Do pdf files have choppy, hard-to-read text? Here is another preferences fix. Go to Edit > Preferences > Page Display and find the "Rendering" area, and change the setting for "Smooth Text" to "For Monitor". You can check all the little checkboxes in that section too, if they aren't already checked. This will make text and graphics render better on the screen.

How to Toggle Hidden Files View in Windows?

Your computer has files that it keeps hidden from normal view. These are typically files that the system uses "behind the scenes", so it is okay, and probably good that they are hidden, because deleting these files may cause problems with your system. From time to time we need to see them so we may work with them, especially for troubleshooting. Here is how to toggle their visibility.

  1. Open up your Control Panel (you will find it in the Start Menu)
  2. Click on Appearance and Customization (in Windows XP, you click on Folder Options).
  3. The Folder Options Panel will open. Select the View tab.
  4. Now you may click on "Show hidden files, folders and drives" if you want to make them visible, or click "Don't show hidden files, folders or drives" if you want them to be hidden.
  5. When you are finished, click the Okay button and you are all done.
  6. If you have enabled Hidden Files view, be sure to disable it when you are finished. Simply follow the same steps as above.
Control Panel's Folder Options Folder Options: Show Hidden Files Folder Options: Hide Hidden Files

My Keyboard has no Backslash Key (Windows)

There are some keyboards, certain French keyboards in particular, that have no key to let you send a backslash character! Well, there is a remedy for this. If you hold the ALT key and push 92 on your number pad on your keyboard, it will send the backslash key for you. There are two ALT keys, usually, one on either side of the space bar, and it doesn't matter which you use. But you DO have to use the number pad and not the regular number keys above the letter keys.

What is an ISO file, and how do I load it?

Have you ever tried to email a folder? It doesn't work. But you can create a compressed zip archive that contains folders. Well, an ISO file is like a zip archive except for the compression. An ISO file is a way of storing a directory structure with its folders and files. Many file managers can browse an ISO file just like they can an archive or a zip folder. The problem is that Windows does not natively recognize an ISO file, so you need an extra application to do that for you. ISO files are also often used to store the contents of CDs in a format where the computer expects a disk in a CD drive.

Ever wanted to have a CD "always on" - that is, you don't want to have to always put in the disk? Well, you can create an ISO file from the CD. (Don't do this with many DVD discs, however, because DVDs are very large - like 8 GB - and will fill up your computer pretty fast). OR, do you have an ISO file and want to use its contents?

You need two free programs, and here is what we recommend:

Using Virtual Clone Drive (please pardon the sheep head), you can "create" a virtual (fake) CD drive, and load the ISO file like you would a normal CD. Using CDBurnerXP, you can take a CD disk and create an ISO file.

If you want to get the directory structure out of the ISO file, you can use 7zip (or almost any other archive extractor) to extract it to any location you like.

How Fast Is Your Internet Connection?

Here are a couple of sites that will measure the speed of your internet connection. There are two types - one speed for when you upload a file - that is, when you send a file to someone else, and another speed for when you download a file. Usually there is a button that lets you choose a server. Since computers are all over the world, you can test how fast your speed is according to the different places the servers are located. Start with one closest to you, and then you can experiment with the others.