Version: February 27, 2002
I don't the time for a full update right now, but here two important pieces of information
Unlike documents in the generic web format (technically known as html) which can be displayed directly by web browsers (like Netscape or MS Internet Explorer), pdf documents require a special reader or plug-in. However, the Acrobat Reader is distributed for free and it is bundled with many software products, so that for many end users no separate installation is necessary. If the web browser is properly configured, pdf documents will display automatically in a browser window. Also, when properly generated (but often this is not the case) the file size of pdf documents is considerable smaller than documents in .doc (MS Word), .wpd (WordPerfect), or .rtf (an alternative "portable" format). And file size, of course, is an important consideration for delivery via the web (e.g., from course web sites).
While the Acrobat Reader is the most commonly used software to view
pdf documents, there are other viewers (see below). So, one should
distinguish between the pdf
specification and the specific Adobe Acrobat
software. Though Adobe Systems maintains copyright to pdf, it has
granted wide license to use this format for other applications.
MS Word 2000
If MS Word/Office is installed on your computer when you are installing Adobe Acrobat, the "PDFMaker 5 for MS Word" is also installed and a special "Acrobat" button appears on the MS Word tool bar. Using the "PDFMaker" has great advantages as it preserves specific functionality of your Word (.doc) document like bookmarks (internal links) and hyperlinks to web sites. The resulting pdf document (while larger in size) will have the same "clickable links" as the original Word document, so it preserves both page layout and links (while an htm conversion preserve the latter only).
Unfortunately, early on the standard installation of PDFMaker did not work with MS Word XP (2002). Following some advice I located in "Adobe Forums" -- a discussion board for Adobe users -- I was able to make PDFMaker work with Word XP on my station, but the official advice from Microsoft was to wait till Adobe released an updated version (more info from MS on trying to make it work and more warnings). The update to 5.0.5 with improved MS Office integration was released in December 2001.
WordPerfect 9 (2000)
This version of WP comes with its own built-in PDF converter, available from the "File" menu after you have opened a document. No need to have the full Adobe Acrobat installed. This, however, is a basic pdf conversion which will not preserve any links. Links in the original WP document will appear in blue and underlined in the resulting pdf document, but they will only look like links without functioning as such.
Capturing and editing web pages. Version 5.0 now includes the option to capture complete web pages (including graphics) and turn these into a .pdf document to which comments and highlights can be added (example: Hunter College home page as captured pdf document). This is very useful for documenting the specific contents of a web page at a particular point in time, as the contents of many web pages change frequently.
The Acrobat Reader (as well as any pdf viewer) is sufficient to view and save pdf documents found on the web. However, the full Acrobat software lets you extract individual pages and combine pages from different pdf documents into a new one. E.g., to produce a document providing excerpts from several laws and regulations on a particular subject, say "accessibility requirements for software" to comply with the ADA.
Scanning printed documents. Acrobat is also my software of choice when scanning printed materials. Typically, the default settings produce files of reasonable size making additional editing unnecessary. However, the initial file is an "image only" file even if the printed material consists of text only. This means that the text is stored as an image and that such a pdf document can not be searched for text strings. The consequence is a fairly large file size and considerable lack of convenience.
Such documents should be processed further so that the text is recognized as text ("optical character recognition - OCR"), reducing the file size and adding much convenience. Such "paper capture" option was included in Acrobat 4.x, but was no longer included in Acrobat 5.0. Rather one must now use a separate product Acrobat Capture or use the "pay per document" Adobe online service (also available on a monthly subscription base). Subsequently (in late May 2001), Adobe made a "Paper Capture Plug-in" available which can be downloaded free of charge.
In sum, Acrobat is a very sophisticated product offering many
options, but just using its basic features without changing the default
settings does not require much learning. Any faculty able to deal with
the basics of MS Word or WordPerfect can use Acrobat without much
training, but the benefits are tremendous. Unfortunately, the retail
price is about $250, and so far Hunter' s ICIT (see e.g., my presentation
at the ICIT seminar in the fall of 2000) and the CUNY Online project
(e.g., my advice
for faculty new to Blackboard) have simply ignored all my pleas to
make this tool available to faculty interested in adding online
components to their courses. Given the continuing neglect of faculty's
needs for "going online" (and trying to cover it up by writing fiction
about what is being done), I searched for a way to produce pdf
documents without having the Acrobat software available. The "poor
person's way to produce pdf documents" is described in the following
section. But, there is also a full feature "Academic Edition" available
from select retailers (like Computer Products for
Education) for less than $60 -- much more affordable. So, unless
money is a big problem, I strongly suggest to get the "Academic
Edition" and all its features (like PDFMaker for Word) rather than using
the absolutely free approach described below.
However, rather than using this standard procedure, I recommend to install the Adobe PostScript printer driver (AdobePS) for Win9x or whatever operating system you run on your computer (other Windows versions, Mac). Don't worry about downloading any "ppd" files as you are instructed. Though these are available at the Adobe web site as well, you don't really need them as the APS printer driver comes with a generic ppd which is all you need as you only want to print to file. To install the APS, simply double click on the downloaded .exe file and follow the instructions. Select the "generic" ppd, and select "file" as the port -- as in the standard Windows printer installation described above.
Obviously, you need to do this only once. After the installation is complete, you can select the "Generic PostScript Printer" from the printer menu in any Windows application.
Installing GSView. The is the second part of the one time installation business. GSView requires another piece of freeware, so must download and install two pieces of the software in this order:
|Original Wordperfect (.wpd)||9 KB|
|pdf with Acrobat PDFWriter||6 KB|
|pdf with Acrobat Distiller||17 KB|
|ps with Generic PostScript Printer||47 KB|
|ps converted to pdf with GSView (default settings)||143 KB|
|ps converted to pdf with GSView (300 dpi, full embedding=no)||26 KB|
Obviously, using GSView requires a bit more knowledge about the formats involved and some tweaking of the default setting to produce files of acceptable size. Also, pdf documents produced with GSView may not look that good on screen (even when subsequently viewed with the Acrobat Reader -- as your students would do), but they print fine.
GSView is also a PDF viewer and it can be used to extract individual pages from a larger pdf document (which the Acrobat Reader will not let you do).
GSView is shareware and you will be nagged to register the product
every time you use it. Registration costs 40 Australian dollars (some
25-30 US $), and you can pay online via credit card, but it is legal to
use it unregistered. So, you should try it out for a while to see
whether you will become a regular user and just getting rid of the
nagging reminder is worth the money.
Bottom line: Using GSView as described above is a work around not offering the same degree of convenience and efficiency as the full Acrobat software. Hopefully, at some point in the near future, Hunter and CUNY faculty will get the support they deserve.