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Reading and Printing PDF Files

by Rollie Littlewood, BIGWILL Webmaster

    Many organizations, including BIGWILL, are beginning to distribute their newsletters electronically. The primary driving forces for this change are 1) reduction of printing costs for the organization, 2) more rapid distribution of the newsletters, and 3) reduction of the amount of labor needed to distribute the newsletter. “PDF files” (technically known as “Adobe Portable Document Files,” sometimes referred to as “Adobe Acrobat files” – using the name of the program most commonly used to create this type of file) as usually used for the electronic distribution of newsletters. The primary reasons for this choice are 1) virtually everyone who can receive email has, or can obtain at no cost, software to read PDF files, and 2) PDF files come very close to the ideal of having the same appearance on every computer on which they are viewed. It might be argued that plain text files have these same attributes, but most people today consider text files to be very unattractive; it is also impossible to include graphical images or any sort of special formatting (such as italics or boldface) in a plain text file. Sometimes newsletter files are posted on a website. More often they are sent to society members as email attachments, because this is the easiest way to restrict access to dues-paying organization members.

    Some organizations can use electronic distribution exclusively, provided their members can all be expected to have sufficient computer equipment and “savvy” to read PDF files. In most organizations this ideal cannot be achieved, because for a variety of reasons some members cannot receive email or view web pages. Some organizations simply offer their members a choice as to whether they want printed copies of newsletters mailed to them or electronic files copies emailed to them. More often, organizations are offering a financial incentive to members to accept their newsletters only electronically, reflecting the cost and labor savings mentioned above. BIGWILL is considering doing this for the 2005 membership year.

    If you are already comfortable with the use of programs in the Adobe Acrobat family, you can probably skip (but see Note 1) the rest of this article, the purpose of which is to provide a tutorial for those who “aren’t there” yet. The primary requirement is that you have some version of “Adobe Acrobat” installed on your computer. This could be the rather expensive program which goes by the exact name of Adobe Acrobat and which can create PDF files as well as read and print them. But most people will be using one of two free programs, Adobe Reader or the older Adobe Acrobat Reader (I will hereafter refer to all members of this family of programs simply as Reader). There are versions of these programs available from Adobe for virtually every personal computer operating system in use today which uses a graphical interface (i.e., there is no version of Reader which runs under MS-DOS). WebTV users can read some PDF files, but they need to “do a little dance” to do so; I will not elaborate further in this article on reading PDF files with a WebTV appliance.

    A computer skill you must master to be successful in this adventure is taking note of where your computer software puts files you download or which come as attachments to your email. I find this to be the single biggest cause of failure when attempting to use downloaded or email files. This file storage location can usually be user-specified by setting some program “preference.”

    If you don’t have any Reader program already installed on your computer, you must first download an appropriate installation program from the Adobe website, then execute that installation program (OK, OK–“run that application” for the Macintosh users–but after this I will use mostly Windows terminology. I think everyone can cope with that) to actually install the actual Reader program.

1.  Go to <> with your favorite web browser (such as Internet Explorer, Netscape, Opera, Safari, or Firefox)

2.  Go to the area on the screen labeled “Step 1 of 2.” Select your Language (probably “English”), your Connection speed (“dial-up” or “broadband”) and most importantly your Platform (such as “Windows XP,” “Windows 98SE,” “Pocket PC,” “Palm OS (Macintosh),” “Windows 3.1,” “MacOS 10.2.2-10.3,” “MacOS 7.5.3,” “Linux” or “OS/2 Warp”).

3.  After you’ve made those selections, “Step 2 of 2” will appear on the screen. You will now be told exactly what version will be downloaded to your computer by default (i.e., the web page automatically selects the version, based on your Platform selection); you will probably also be given some choices for downloading a “better” program version or some supplemental programs. Be aware that these installation programs are quite large – often 10 MB or more. When “Step 2 of 2” appears on the screen, you will be told the size of the download file. If you have a broadband connection (cable modem or DSL), there is not likely to be a problem. If you are using dial-up, be prepared to do something else while the download is going on. A 56 Kb telephone modem running “full-throttle” requires about 2.5-3.0 minutes to receive each megabyte (MB), so you may wait for somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes for the download.

Some advice and comments about versions:

    You may be given a choice between a “basic version” and a “full version.” I suggest choosing the latter, as only the full version includes the ability to search for text within a PDF file.

    For recent operating systems, the current version of Adobe Reader is 6.0.2. But for reasons which escape this writer, one cannot download the 6.0.2 version (for U.S. English) directly – one must first download and install the 6.0.1 version, then install the 6.0.2 version as an Update from the Help menu of the 6.0.1 version (Don’t Ask! Just Believe!).

    If your computer is getting a bit old, you may want to install version 5.0.5 instead of 6.0.x of Reader, even if your operating system is theoretically capable of running version 6. Version 6 seems to run noticeably slower than version 5 in many situations. To choose the older version (5.0.5), lie about your Platform (specify something like “Windows 95”).

    If you have a really unusual version need, look on the web pages <> or <>.

    Although it is permissible to have more than one version of Reader installed on any one computer, it is seldom a good idea to do so. The operating system – especially on a Macintosh – may get confused as to which program version to use.

4.  Once you have downloaded the installation program, you must execute it. The easiest way to do this is to go to the subdirectory or folder in which the installation file was placed, and then double-click on the name or icon representing the downloaded file. The installation program will not only create a stand-alone Reader program (see Note 2), but it will attempt to install appropriate “plug-ins” in each of your web browsers so that you can read PDF files directly from your browser. Once the installation is complete, you can delete the installation program if you’d like. I suggest saving it, just in case you need to reinstall Reader some day.

    Now all the hard work is over! You should not need to download another of these huge installation files until Adobe releases a new version (which they do about every other year).

    For PDF files received as email attachments, to view them either you can double-click on the name of the file in the email, or you can start the Reader program and then open the attachment file (which you should be able to find in the subdirectory or folder where your email program puts all attachments).

    For PDF files referenced from a web page (such as <>), to view them either you can double-click on the link to the PDF file on the web page, or you can download the PDF file (Right click [Windows] or hold down mouse button [Macintosh] to be able to download file to local disk drive; depending on the browser you are using, the appropriate next choice will be something such as “Save Link Target As..., ” “Save Link As...” or “Save Target As...” –  not  “Save Page As...”), then start the Reader program and open the PDF file (which you should be able to find in the subdirectory or folder where your browser program puts the downloaded file).

    If you have a printer attached to your computer, either directly or via a network, you should be able to print the PDF file quite easily – perhaps in color.

    Oh, and don’t laugh! You really can read the BIGWILL ENews on a PDA. It takes a bit of effort, but you can do it.

    Are you ready to try getting the BIGWILL ENews by email? Here are steps you may need to take:

1.  Make sure that BIGWILL knows your email address. If you’re not sure if we have it, send a message to me at <>. In the message, let me know that you’d like to try getting the newsletter by email.

2.  Make you your email is set up to accept email from BIGWILL. If your email uses some kind of blocking system, be sure that both <> and <> are in your list of “approved” senders.

3.   Know the following: the newsletter attachments are usually between 200 and 300 KB in size; we are trying to email them about the first of each month in which we have a general membership meeting; we also occasionally send brief messages to alert members to new developments on the web; we try to include “BIGWILL” somewhere in the subject line.

    Although this article is quite long, it does not include all the excruciating details which some people may need. I will place this article on the Newsletter page of the BIGWILL website (<>) and expand or update it as seems appropriate. I will try to pay special attention to 1) the WebTV “dance,” 2) PDA procedures for reading PDF files, and 3) tricks which AOL and Juno subscribers may have to do to receive these files.


Note 1: An important exception: If you currently are using an Adobe Acrobat Reader program with a version number below 4.0.5, you should definitely uninstall your current program and install a more recent version. (If you are using Windows 3.1, a MacOS version before 7.5.3, or OS/2 Warp, you cannot upgrade to any version of Adobe Acrobat Reader above 3.0.1. This limitation will severely hamper your ability to read PDF files created by current software.)

Note 2: PDA users: note that the installation file will be downloaded to your “main” computer, but the Reader program will be placed on your PDA.

The text of this article first appeared in the September/October 2004 issue of the BIGWILL News. It has been reformatted slightly for presentation as a web page.

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This page was last modified on 25 March 2007