PDF – A Brief Overview – Part 1

Humble Beginnings


Adobe Acrobat Icon

PDF technology is one of those things we, pretty much, take for granted. In it’s inception, Adobe created the technology to gave users, regardless of computer platform or operating system, the ability to share documents across any computer platform. Back in the computer Dark Ages, this meant that a person using a PC and the Windows operating system, could share a document with a person on a Mac, Linux, Unix… just about anyone.

Launch Adobe’s proprietary Acrobat Distiller application and it would create the PDF for you. Next, you could load the PDF onto a floppy, (remember those?) for distribution. In those days, if we had an electronic mail account, we could “send” PDFs! What an amazing time!


Amazing Times!

It was amazing because, sharing documents was pretty difficult. Microsoft eventually got around to making Word for the Mac and DataVis made some really good document converters, but it was really a new world full of new languages and new dialects when Adobe’s Acrobat PDF technology came on the scene. Acrobat Reader was a free application that could read PDF files and Distiller was a paid application a producer coveted.

PDFs had the added advantage of being un-editable. You could open a PDF, but could not change it. As the the technology improved and Adobe figured out ways to squeeze (compress) more and more data into an already small file size, the printing industry took notice and began aggressively using the PDF format to send to their digital printing presses. The presses would begin to roll… “Oops.. that’s a typo. Too bad we can’t edit it!” Yep, that changed too. Acrobat Professional is now able to edit and modify documents. We pay for this application and the reader is still free.


PDF Progress


Apple’s Preview Application Icon

Over time, Adobe began to license the technology. The first big player, as I recall, was Apple. When the decision was made to move the core Macintosh operating system to UNIX, rebranding the interface as OS X, Apple built PDF services into the entire printing system. The Preview application is the face of this technology in a Mac. Preview can open and save PDFs. But there is more. In addition to simply opening and saving a PDF, Preview can also empower you to add additional pages to an existing PDF, remove pages from a PDF, rotate, crop and adjust the look of the page and even save a PDF as another file type, such as JPG. This little power house is pretty amazing too. Take a little time and explore its menus.


Secret Button


Hidden in plain sight… the PDF services button!

There is a little bit of a secret to using the powerful build in PDF services. It’s hidden, in plain sight as part of the Print Dialog box. When you select print, on anything from a Pages or Word document to a webpage, a dialog box appears. In the lower left corner of the box is a small button labeled PDF. It is actually a PopUp menu that is loaded with cool items, enabling you to invoke true PDF power. From that little menu, you can process a PDF and automatically attach it to an email. You can simply save a PDF for later reading or emailing. You can have it automatically added to Evernote or Dropbox. Using Applescript or Automator, there are endless opportunities to create amazing workflows to suit your publishing needs.

PDF’s are pretty secure too. We’ll talk about that next.



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