CeePrompt! Computer Connection

Originally published June 11, 2001

Adobe Acrobat Files

A successful romp throughout the Internet is predicated on being able to negotiate the twists, turns and curves that are frequently thrown your way. Oftentimes, pages fail to load or you end up at a dead end, through no fault of your won. Commonly, users also encounter strange file types that they're unsure of, resulting in a reticence to proceed.

Portable document format is a file type that's used widely on the Internet to share documents in their original format. These PDF files are created with Adobe Acrobat software and allow just about any document to be converted to a format that can be viewed cross-platform using a web browser and a special reader.

This is a tremendous advantage when viewing or sharing files, especially when the source file software may not be installed on the viewers system. Practically speaking, this means you can view an Excel spreadsheet without having Excel installed, or read a newsletter created with Publisher in it's entirety without having Publisher installed on your system.

Since many documents don't translate seamlessly to HTML format, PDF files are a great way for companies to publish forms, policies and procedures online without any degradation in formatting. Links, fonts and the layout all remain intact with PDF files. Websites such as the IRS and EDD routinely use PDF files to make their library of forms available online. PDF files do require that you have a PDF reader installed on your system, so when you encounter that strange message prompting you to download the free Acrobat reader, it's OK because you need this software in order to view the file.

The actual software that creates these files is easy to use and will convert any of your existing files to PDF format for uploading to the web or for collaboration. I recently purchased the full version, Adobe Acrobat 5.0 and have loved the ease of use in making documents more transportable and easy to share. The product costs one-third of what it did a few years ago: $259 for new license, with special pricing available for academic use.

Compressed or zipped files represent another file type that often befuddles the novice Internet surfer. Zipped files have been compressed so that they travel faster and more efficiently through the Internet pipes. Without the necessary software on the user end, however, you can't simply double-click a file ending in ZIP and expect to see its contents. The compressed file must be decompressed or unzipped before it can be viewed.

PKWARE has been a pioneer in compression technology and their software PKZIP can be downloaded as shareware for free. WinZip is another software product that you can download to unzip any files that have been downloaded or perhaps sent as email attachments. Once the software is installed, then you can double-click the zipped file and it will automatically decompress to a specified file location. Now it should be in a familiar format for viewing.

Some compressed files are self-extracting files and end in EXE, rather than ZIP. These files don't require unzipping software and need only a double-click of the mouse to decompress. Like Adobe Acrobat, you can use PKZip or WinZip for your own benefit as well. Many users find compression software valuable tools for archiving old files and freeing up space on their hard disks.

Compression ratios vary depending on file types, but I've experienced 90% compression ratio on some large files. A 2.5MB Word file, for example, was compressed to 217KB, a much more reasonable size for transport on the Internet or archive storage.

PDF and ZIP files aren't roadblocks on the Internet -- just a small bump in the road.

Cathi Schuler owns a computer literacy training/consulting company, Cee Prompt! She is a co-author of computer textbooks and can be reached by e-mail at cschuler@uop.edu or cschuler@ceeprompt.com or by mail c/o The Record, P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201. She is on the Internet at: http://www.ceeprompt.com. Click here for past archived columns.

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