End User's Corner - December 1997


A Tutorial on Adobe Acrobat and the Portable Document Format (PDF)

Kurt Foss

December 1997

This month's column was inspired by a review of Internet Scout services in a well known library publication. The reviewer failed to evaluate our Scout Toolkit Sidekicks because they were created as Adobe Acrobat PDF files and she was "allergic" to PDF. The fact that a librarian who was very experienced with the Internet could still be allergic to PDF, a cross-platform publishing format available on the Internet for over three years, inspired me to try to find who could explain this magnificent software to the end user, so that more people could take advantage of the tremendous amount of PDF resources available. My search did not take long.

This month we turn the End User's Corner over to Kurt Foss, Internet Communications Manager for Emerge, a Madison, Wisconsin-based information management company that uses Adobe Acrobat and PDF as its core technology. Emerge's PDFzone Web site PDFzone (http://emerge.pdfzone.com/) site is a rich resource for information about PDF, including sponsorship of several focused discussion lists, Web forums, a weekly email/Web newsletter, and freeware and shareware tools that extend the product's capabilities. Emerge is one of three official mirror sites for downloading the Acrobat Reader software. Foss also teaches an Internet publishing course at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism, and has been a user of - and evangelist for - Acrobat since its version 1.0 release. [Jack Solock]

The "Get Acrobat Reader" graphic Get Reader icon is an increasingly common sight across the World Wide Web these days, as growing numbers of people and organizations have come to appreciate the capabilities of the technology it represents. The symbolic image is an almost certain indication that one or more PDF files * lie ahead, ready for downloading or viewing on line.

For those only vaguely familiar with Adobe Acrobat software and Portable Document Format (PDF) documents, an overview and introduction are in order.

Newcomers to Acrobat can sometimes be confused, as the term actually includes a suite of software tools rather than a single application. The once separate components that conprise the commercial product -- Exchange, Distiller, Catalog and Capture -- are now bundled and sold as Acrobat, currently at version 3.01. Before taking a close look at Acrobat Reader, the freely available software from Adobe Systems for viewing, navigating and printing PDF files, here's a brief description of each of the commercial component's specific abilities:

- Acrobat Exchange
used to read, print, annotate & enhance PDF files
- Acrobat Distiller
used to create PDFs from PostScript files
- Acrobat Catalog
used to create a full-text index of a PDF collection
- Acrobat Capture
used to convert paper-based or electronic files to PDF

NOTE: The version of Capture included in the Acrobat package (for Macintosh and Windows) functions as a plug-in to Exchange. It does not have all the capabilities of the full package, Capture v.2.0, available only for Windows.

The key to Acrobat is PDF, the unique file format developed by Adobe, based on its industry standard PostScript printing language. Files converted to PDF, an open file type, are interchangeable across multiple computer platforms, with the document's structure and design fully preserved, including high-resolution graphics. The PDF document will be a virtual copy of the original, even if the fonts and creating application are not installed on the user's computer.

During a panel session at the 1997 Seybold Publishing Conference in September, Emerge CEO Andrew Young commented on PDF's growing popularity and varied applications. "We're seeing Acrobat being used enterprise-wide for document distribution. It's a horizontal technology, its abilities stretching from the printing of documents, through scanning, Internet publishing and forms distribution," he says. "The file type is like a Swiss-army knife."

One common misconception is that a Web publisher must choose *between* using the hypertext markup language (HTML) or PDF for distributing information online. The reality is that they are very complementary approaches, each having a set of strengths and weaknesses that when used wisely together can utilize the best traits of each.

Another, is the notion that PDF files are always large, which is no longer true. Not only have experienced users become more adept at creating smaller PDF files for online use, but Adobe has added several features specifically to address this perceived problem. Files can now be "optimized" through Exchange using a process similar to the way files are cached by a Web browser to load the same elements faster. Also, with the proper file server configuration, PDF files now can be "byteserved" -- meaning that one does not have to download an entire document to read just a few pages in it. Byteserved PDFs can be downloaded a page at a time; so if some PDFs are still testing one's downloading patience, byteserving the files can be another solution.

So who's using Acrobat -- and how and why? PDFs files are highly visible in government and educational sites, and growing steadily in commercial Web sites, too. (For a list of some selected educational resources in PDF, see the end of the article.)

One good source of educational and research-oriented PDF files is the Internet Scout Project's weekly Scout Report (http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/scout/report), itself also available in a PDF version. Frequently among its annotated listings of valuable resources are various academic institutions making a variety of documents available as PDF files, either along with or sometimes instead of other formats. Be sure to visit the Scout's Toolkit section to download the PDFs of the "Sidekicks" documents, search engine tipsheets (http://www.scout.cs.wisc.edu/scout/toolkit/sidekicks/) -- a useful resource for finding needles, not noodles, on the Net.

As mentioned, the free Acrobat Reader is readily available on line for various computer platforms and operating systems, as well as in multiple languages. It's available as either the plain application, which includes basic search functionality, or as a "Reader Plus Search" version that includes extended searching capabilities. Reader also comes pre-installed on many new computers and CD-ROMs. Once downloaded and installed by a new user, it's a good idea to get acquainted with Reader's toolbar and user-definable optionals, and to understand what it can -- and cannot -- do.

It's important to remember that the Reader can NOT be used to create or enhance PDF files. [What did you expect for free anyway?] It also does not include a SAVE function. Nonetheless, the program includes the basic tools needed for viewing, navigating and printing. Those capabilities can be enhanced with the installation of several free or commercial plug-ins. More on that shortly.

The Toolbar
Reader 3.01 with Search Toolbar

The Reader v.3.01 with Search (shown above) toolbar provides a set of clickable icons, used to modify page display, move back and forth through multi-page PDF documents, or to search its contents. Additional plug-ins can add new toolbar buttons and extend Reader's capabilities, including launching a Web browser. Basic navigation and viewing functions can also be invoked from menubar items or with keyboPop-up navigation windoward shortcuts.

In addition, several of the most frequently used page display functions can be activated from pop-up buttons along the bottom of the viewing window.

The first three toolbar icons (from left) control how the PDF document is displayed:
Nav icons

  • Shows active page only - can be single or side-by-side pages
  • Shows page with clickable bookmarks - a text Table of Contents
  • Shows page with thumbnail images - previews of each page

NOTE: The latter two are available only if the PDF author created them -- manually or automatically -- in the document; Reader cannot be used to add bookmarks or thumbnails. (Exchange allows the creation of both.)

The next three icons -- the hand, the magnifier, and "abc" -- offer these respective functions:
next 3 icons

  • Click and drag to move page contents up-down, side-to-side
  • Allows zooming in (up to 800%) or out (to 12%) of a PDF
  • Selects text in a PDF to be copied to another application

The next six icons appear as three pairs of document navigation tools, each slightly different way, as follows:
nav icons

  • Go back to the first page
  • Go back one page
  • Go forward one page
  • Go to the last page
  • Go back to the last viewed page
  • Go ahead to the last viewed page

NOTE: The latter two are useful if one follows an internal link and jumps ahead or back in the document by more than one page. You can return to the previously viewed page, even if it's many pages from the current page, with a single click.

The next three icons provide one-click tools for viewing the PDF page(s) in one of three pre-set modes:
Fit windows

  • Fit full-page in window
  • Fit the window's depth
  • Fit the window's width

Zooming to other views of a page can be accomplished by click-drag-selecting with the magnifier tool, or by using the magnification pop-up window along the lower left edge of the Reader window. Due to its PostScript lineage, text in PDF files are sharp and crisp even when enlarged.

The final five icons in the Reader toolbar activate tools for searching the full-text content of the currently open PDF file, or the index of an associated collection of PDFs (the latter functionality is available only if "Reader with Search" is installed, and can only be used if Acrobat Catalog was used to create an index of a set of PDF documents):
Find/Search icons

  • Find - searches only the open document
  • Search (if Search plug-in is installed)
  • Display results of search
  • Highlight the previous occurrence of the search term
  • Highlight the next occurrence of the search term

Configuring User Options

Before doing any serious PDF viewing with Acrobat Reader, take a few minutes to set up the various user-customizable options in Preferences.

  • They include the following:

  • General
  • Notes
  • Full-Screen
  • Search
  • Weblink

While you may be satisfied with the default settings, exploring the Preference settings will enlighten you as to which aspects of the display interface you -- the user -- can control.

Of particular interest are the General Preferences, which control numerous document display options, and Weblink, which allows the user to launch a Web browser from the Reader menubar or from an active hypertext link in a PDF document. Once you set the preference and indicate your preferred Web browser, a new "Launch WEB Browser" icon (below) is added to the Reader toolbar.

When Acrobat Reader is installed, it will attempt to place the special PDFViewer plug-in in the appropriate folder or directory of your installed Web browser. Check to be sure it got properly installed, especially if you have more than one browser installed on your computer, or if Reader was installed prior to the browser's installation.

The PDFViewer plug-in may still reside in your Weblink folder, inside the installed Adobe Acrobat Reader folder. If so, locate the plug-in:

and place it inside your Web browser's plug-in folder. (Restart your browser if it is active.)

You now have the option of opening PDF files inside your Web browser's window rather than in a second Window opened by Reader. This preference must be set inside your Web browser; full details for setting up the Reader plug-in to work with various browsers is available from the Adobe (http://www.adobe.com/) Web site. The Reader toolbar appears inside the browser window, along with a couple additional tools, one for printing a PDF that's displayed inside a browser window. (Printing a PDF inside a browser window should be done by clicking this new icon on the Reader's toolbar rather than choosing Print from the browser's menu). Also, if you prefer, you can choose to have the Reader launched and a separate Acrobat window opened whenever you click on a link to a PDF file.

Some PDF documents may not allow you to change certain settings or to perform certain actions. If the document's author turned off certain functions, like printing or copying text, you will not be allowed to do that in Reader. You can check the document's settings in Document Info, which shows which of Acrobat's security options were set by the author. In addition, you can see which fonts are embedded and which, if any, were replicated by Acrobat (if they are not available on your computer).

Now you should be ready to download and/or view PDF documents. In time, you may want to start creating your own portable documents. Remember, you'll need more than the free Reader for that.

Acrobat/PDF Resources Online

A sampling of PDF resources for and by educators:

  • College Search - Howard Community College (http://www.howardcc.edu/academic/colleges.htm)
  • "Blueprint for Excellence" - University of Missouri-Columbia College of Education (http://tiger.coe.missouri.edu/)
  • Calculus Tutorial - The University of Akron Math Sciences (http://www.math.uakron.edu/~dpstory/e-calculus.html)
  • Funding Your Education 1997-98 - U.S. Department of Education (http://www.ed.gov/prog_info/SFA/FYE/)
  • Reports - U.S. GAO (General Accounting Office) (http://www.gao.gov/new.items/newtitle.htm)
  • Surveys - U.S. Department of Education IPEDS (Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System) Graduation Rates Forms (http://www.ed.gov/NCES/ipeds/survey3.html)
  • Physics class handouts - Harvard University (http://galileo1.harvard.edu/physics11/handouts.html)
  • Alumni newsletter - Virginia Tech University (http://www.me.vt.edu/ME/alumni/)
  • HTML Beginner's Guide - NCSA (National Center for Supercomputing Applications) (http://www.ncsa.uiuc.edu/General/Internet/WWW/HTMLPrimer.html)
  • Web Style Guide - Yale University (http://info.med.yale.edu/caim/manual/contents.html)
  • NetWorker magazine - University of Southern California (http://www.usc.edu/ucs/userserv/pub/Networker/)
  • Preparation of Master's and Doctoral Theses - Penn State University (http://www.gradsch.psu.edu/gs_overview/thesisguide/)
  • Purely Academic Newsletter - University of Phoenix (http://www.uophx.edu/news.htm)
  • Stanford Portfolio - Stanford University (http://icarus.stanford.edu/100101)
  • Faculty profiles - Baylor University (http://www.baylor.edu/learn_rsrc/publications/Grad_Cat/Faculty.html)
  • U.S. Bill of Rights - Federal Government (http://www.mv.us.adobe.com/newsfeatures/billofrights/main.html)
  • IAUP newsletter - International Association of University Presidents (http://www.csus.edu/iaup/Index.html)
  • World Factbook - CIA (US Central Intelligence Agency) (http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/nsolo/)
  • Journals Online - Cambridge University Press (http://www.journals.cup.org/cup/html/nm_intro.htm)
  • Plan for Year 2000 - US Census Bureau (http://www.census.gov/main/www/2kplans.html)
  • Cold War Project - Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (http://cwihp.si.edu/bullpdf.htm)
  • Electronic Theses and Dissertations - Virginia Tech University (http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/theses/)

InterNIC News

This article originally appeared as part of the End User's Corner, a featured column of InterNIC News, which was published monthly by Network Solutions, Inc. and InterNIC from May 1996 through March 1998. As of April 1998, End User's Corner will be published by the Internet Scout Project.

Copyright Susan Calcari and the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents, 1994-1998. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of the End User's Corner provided the copyright notice and this paragraph is preserved on all copies. The Internet Scout Project provides information about the Internet to the US research and education community under a grant from the National Science Foundation, number NCR-9712140. The Government has certain rights in this material.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the University of Wisconsin - Madison or the National Science Foundation.

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