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Acrobatic Maneuvers for College Professors

by Bernard Gorman 

Are you tired of cluttering your office with reams of class handouts and assignment sheets? You might consider distributing your materials in Portable Document Format (PDF). Adobe Acrobat Port table Document Format (PDF) files have been around since the early nineties.  Most government documents are available in this format and many websites allow you to freely download PDF articles, pamphlets, and books. There’s a good reason for the popularity and ubiquity of PDF files.  For one, they can be viewed on nearly any operating system. There are Acrobat Reader programs, freely available from Adobe, Inc. (www.adobe.com) for Windows, LINUX, MAC, Palm, and even DOS systems. PDF files retain everything that can be displayed on a computer monitor or printer. This means that if you can see it on your computer, anyone else can read it without having to own the original program that created it. Due to a very sophisticated compression approach, PDF files are typically quite small. In fact, a document containing more than a hundred pages of text may still take up less than a megabyte of space.  Their small size allows them to be sent quickly over the web and you can easily store hundreds of documents on a USB flash drive or a CD or DVD. The term, “portable” is well-deserved.

 As mentioned earlier, Acrobat Reader is free. Many new computers distribute it with their installations. Many software publishers find it convenient to publish their user’s guides and other documentation in PDF format rather than in paper and they typically bundle an Acrobat Reader with their software.  You can always get the latest free copy from Adobe’s site.  Some users, however, have found that the Adobe Reader is very large and somewhat slow. Personally, I’ve found that recent versions work very well on modern computers. However, if you’d like to try a small (1.5 Mb.) and fast alternative to the official Acrobat Reader, then you might want to try Foxit PDF Reader, which is free and available from www.foxitsoftware.com .  Foxit has some nice features, including form filler, an annotation tool, and the ability to convert some parts of a document or the entire document to simple text files.

 You may wonder why Adobe “gives away” the Acrobat Reader.  Well Waldo, there’s a slight (but not awful) hitch.   You see, there’s no such thing as the “Adobe Writer.” If so, it can be found in Jimmy Hoffa’s tomb.  Adobe produces the program, Adobe Acrobat and the cost of versions range from $99 for upgrades to around $450 for the full-featured Professional version. Academic users can often get discounts and site-licensing plans are available.  .If you can afford it, the full version does some amazing things. It not only produces Acrobat documents but it can also capture whole websites for offline reading. It can combine several Adobe documents and it allows teams to work together by adding comments and “sticky notes” to group projects and it can export documents to Microsoft Word format. You can even produce animated documents.

 I’m assuming you’re fabulously wealthy. But if, just in case Bill Gates, Donald Trump, or Warren Buffett aren’t envious of your largesse, you might want to consider some low-cost and free alternatives.  One free alternative can be found in the package, Open Office.Org 2.0, available from www.openoffice.org. This free office suite is highly compatible with Microsoft Office. Better yet for our purposes; it can export everything to PDF files.  Another alternative can be found in a little program, PDF995, available from www.pdf995.com. The program does a fine job of creating most Acrobat documents. It’s free, but if you register it for $9.95 (C’mon Cheapo!), you can get rid of a pop-up advertisement that asks you to buy it.  The program, PDF Creator, available from http://sourceforge.net/, is also free but you’ll have to download an install an additional, free package, Ghostscript.  I’ve found the program PDF Master by MAUS Software to a very reliable, versatile, and low-cost (around $20) alternative.  If you want to convert Adobe files to Microsoft Word or other formats, you might want to try Smartsoft’s  (http://smartpdfconverter.com/) SmartPDF Converter ($40 - $70) ,  Solid Documents Inc.’s (www.solidpdf.com) Sold Converter ($50-$100),  PDF2WORD (www.convertzone.com,  around $40), or  ScanSoft’s (www.nuance.com/products/) PDF Converter 4 ($50-$100, retail).

 I’ve been giving out volumes of materials to my students on CD’s. It’s saved me acres and tons of storage space and, given the low cost of blank CD’s and DVD’s and the high speeds at which we can copy them, it clearly beats old-fashioned paper. Try it!




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