- The Washington Times - Monday, June 9, 2003

I’ll never forget a question the woman from an accounting-software company asked when I told her I created invoices in Microsoft Excel and sent the files to customers: “What’s to stop them from changing the numbers?”

“Well, ah, nothing,” I stammered, as I froze in my tracks.

Whether it’s an invoice, resume, proposal or screenplay for the next Academy Award winner, sending documents in files created with standard office applications leaves room for foul play.

This is one of the reasons that Adobe Systems, years ago, came up with the Portable Document Format. A PDF file can be locked and secured so that no one can change the final product. It’s a good way to make sure your million-dollar contract doesn’t become one for a million cents, or to ensure that a printing project for a client can’t be changed at the production house. Sometimes you need that level of security.

Creating PDF files has been a bit haphazard; several programs claim to be able to create these. Under Apple’s Macintosh OS X operating software, saving a print file as a PDF is a regular option. But not all PDFs are created equal. For my money, the best solution is to use Adobe’s Acrobat software, which can create and edit nonsecure PDF files.

Adobe Acrobat has appeared in its 6.0 version, and in a variety of formats, ranging from Professional at about $450 per copy to Acrobat Elements for $28 per copy — if you’re buying 1,000 copies at one time for a corporate installation.

In addition to the Professional version, which will be of greatest interest to graphic designers and engineering professionals who use programs such as AutoCAD and other design software, there is a Standard version for $299. The Standard version will be sufficient for many business users as it, like the professional, will work seamlessly with Microsoft Office applications and the Windows version of Internet Explorer.

Think of Acrobat as a silent assistant. You want a version of a document people can see and comment on, while retaining the original text? Acrobat will do that. Need to fill in a form? No hassle here, if the form has been created as a PDF document. Want to save a Web page, or a whole Web site, for review? Once again, it’s PDF to the rescue, via Acrobat 6.0.

With such tools in the program, as well as those it will add to Office and Explorer, such functions are a click or two away in most cases: Create the document in Word or Excel and you can review, comment and pass it around — and in file sizes generally far smaller than those of Word or Excel. Form creation is a bit trickier. I’ve had success with OmniForm from ScanSoft, but Acrobat seems a good program with which such forms can be completed.

Saving a Web site with Acrobat has its appeal. You can print out a site in a scale to fit standard business-size paper, while retaining all the formatting, color and illustrations of the Web site. Again, file sizes are generally much smaller than those created when saving directly from a Web browser. There is also the convenience of a single PDF file vs. the many files a Web browser will save for you.

For those seeking to self-publish books, magazines or newsletters, the PDF format is a perfect complement to desktop-publishing tools, as well as a way to “repurpose” content for other uses and even device platforms — Acrobat Reader now is available for hand-held devices.

Security, convenience and consistent results: All these can be obtained using Acrobat, and if your business — or your life — depends on such functions, Acrobat 6.0, in any flavor, could be essential. More information can be found at www.adobe.com.

Mark Kellner’s “On Computers” column runs every Tuesday. His web site is www.kellner2000.com.

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