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PDF Viruses:
A Word To The Wise!

Inventive, malicious virus writers seem to want to pollute everything they touch. And sadly, the PDF file format is no exception.

In fact, PDF files carrying viruses were first discovered way back in 2001.

The initial virus - which was named "Peachy" or "OUTLOOK.PDFWorm” - used Microsoft Outlook to send itself as an attachment to a PDF file.

Virus researchers found that these PDF file viruses were activated when the file was opened with Adobe Acrobat, but not with Acrobat Reader.

So the PDFs were perfectly safe when viewed in a browser, but they became wildly unsafe the instant they were opened on someone's hard drive.

These days all good anti-virus software routinely scans PDFs for viruses. And PDF infections aren't very common in any case.

Nonetheless, it's probably wise to scan any PDF you received that doesn't come from a trusted source.

Particularly if you intend to open it up in a PDF creator. And most especially if it comes to you from a spammer.

Other PDF Creator Resources

How To Get A Cheap(er)
Adobe Acrobat on Ebay

If you really, really have to have Adobe Acrobat (but still don't want to pay the full price) you can usually buy a discounted copy through eBay.

Here are the Adobe Acrobat sales occurring on eBay Australia right now:

PDF Creation Software
Background: The PDF (Portable Document Format) file format was invented by Adobe Systems in 1993.

PDFs allowed for the exchange of documents in a manner that was independent of the application software, hardware and operating systems in use: a concept that we take for granted today, but one that was pretty revolutionary in the early 1990s.

And while the uptake of PDFs was initially slow - partly because other people invented competing file formats at around the same time that did similar things, and partly because early PDFs were big and bloated - over the succeeding years the PDF file format steadily rose from being a niche format mostly used by desktop publishers into the default document exchange standard that's now used around the world.

A large part of the credit for this must go to Adobe themselves. They developed and distributed the Acrobat Reader from their web site at no charge from 1993 to the present day. This popular browser plug-in allowed anyone to view PDFs over the Net. And this - in turn - made Acrobat Reader an essential addition to everyone's browser (you can get Acrobat Reader on our browser plugins page).

Adobe also allowed other companies to develop software that let ordinary people create and/or manipulate PDF files rather than try to corner the market (even though their own Adobe Acrobat was initially the only program on the market that allowed anyone to create PDFs, and is still technically the best). Many other software companies in similar situations had tried to develop monopolies - and died. But Adobe didn't - and it thrived.

So having seen off all rival file format competition by being open-handed, far-sighted and deciding to compete on the basis of having superior software rather than trying to hog the market, Adobe finally cemented the dominance of PDFs in 2008 by turning the PDF file format into an Open Standard. This was officially published by the International Standards Organisation on 1 July 2008 as ISO 32000-1:2008.

What the open standard means is that while Adobe still hold the patents to the PDF format, anyone can now create applications that can read and write PDF files without having to pay royalties to Adobe for doing so.

So what do you do if you want to create PDFs but don't have US$299 to US$699 to purchase your own copy of Adobe Acrobat? Well, the good news is that you can now use any of a large number of non-Adobe PDF creators to do pretty much the same thing.

They may not quite do everything that Adobe Acrobat 9.0 does (or do it to the same exacting technical standards). But they certainly do produce workmanlike PDFs for everyday use easily and quickly.

And that includes these terrific - and completely free - PDF writers:


Popular PDF Creators
doPDF is a simple, lightweight PDF creator that allows you to turn any document that you could print off your computer into a PDF. Like Adobe Acrobat, doPDF installs itself as an extra printer driver. Once it's installed, all you need to do to create a PDF is select "Print" from within your software application, then select doPDF as the printer to use and then specify where you'd like the finished PDF saved to - simple! doPDF supports a variety of standard page sizes (eg: A4, Letter, Legal etc) but it also allows you to set any custom print size you'd like to use if none of the standard sizes meet your needs. You can also set the print resolution to anything between 72dpi (for very lightweight PDFs) up to 2400 dpi (for highly detailed but bulky PDFs); and doPDF also allows you to create searchable PDFs that will allow users to search the text inside your PDF file (search engines will be able to do the same thing if you upload the PDF to the Internet). doPDF runs on Windows (XP, Vista and Server 2000/2003/2008), comes in 20 language versions and has won many awards. We think it deserves to. It's simple, fast, effective and reliable. Get doPDF.


Magic Document Solutions' MagicPDF is a simple freeware PDF creator that offers much the same functionality as doPDF (above). That is to say, it offers all the most popular features of Adobe Acrobat in the freeware version (ie you can create PDFs from any Windows software at the click of a button by specifying MagicPDF as the printer, and you can also set the printing size, screen resolution and location of finished document). There's also a US$50 MagicPDF Pro commercial version available if you want to upgrade at some future time in order to use more advanced PDF creation features. In tests we conducted between doPDF and MagicPDF we found very little difference in either ease of use or the end result between the two products, so we thought it was unfair to leave either of them off our list. But if you have simple PDF creation needs, then which of these two you choose to use is really a matter of personal choice. Technically, they're both equally good. MagicPDF runs on Windows 2000, XP, 2003 and Vista and has interfaces for English, French, Spanish, German, Asian and Middle/Eastern European languages. Get MagicPDF


PDF Redirect
If you want slightly more advanced features that simple PDF creators provide or are running an older version of Windows, then EXP Systems' PDF Redirect may be the answer to your needs. In addition to drop-dead simple PDF creation, PDF Redirect also offers you the ability to preview your PDF so you can optimize your settings on the fly; to merge PDFs together to create composite documents; to encrypt your PDFs with passwords; and to set the viewing style of the finished PDF. PDF redirect is a freeware version of EXP Systems' commercial US$20 PDF Redirect Pro which offers even more advanced features and it runs on all versions of Windows from Win98 to Vista. PDF Redirect has won gongs from Download.Com, ZDNet and PC World and has been downloaded more than 500,000 times. We thought it was pretty cool too. Get PDF Redirect.


If you need more advanced PDF creation and/or manipulation features than those provided by doPDF or MagicPDF - or even PDF Redirect - (above), then PrimoPDF is well worth looking at. PrimoPDF provides a feature set that rivals Adobe Acrobat (for example, the ability to optimise PDFs for press, print or the web; the ability to optimize multi-page PDF files for page-at-a-time web display; to compress images and embed fonts; to add bookmarks; to add encryption; and the ability to merge, edit, insert, extract, rotate and/or reorder PDF pages, amongst many other things). Naturally, though, the bigger the feature set the bigger the learning curve. So while you can get productive with PrimoPDF in a matter of minutes, full use of all its advanced features generally requires a thorough reading of its well-explained, illustrated manual. PrimoPDF is a cut-down freeware version of the commercial US$99 NitroPro (which can also be obtained as 14 day trialware on the site). PrimoPDF runs on Windows 2000, XP and Vista and we were very impressed with it. If you have advanced PDF creation needs, we think you probably will be too. Get PrimoPDF.


While Windows users have to hunt around for non-Adobe alternatives if they want to create PDFs, Mac OS X users don't: the ability to generate PDFs is already built into the OS X operating system. All the same, it's a pretty simple printing capability (much like that provided by doPDF or MagicPDF, above, or Microsoft's Save as Pdf, below). But if you run a Mac and want to do some more advanced things with PDFs, then PDFLab is a nice add-on to have. PDFLab lets you split and join PDF documents as well as insert images and blank pages. You can also quickly split a document into many documents (one document per page or one document for odd pages and one for even pages); encrypt or decrypt a document; add a watermark; and interleave several documents together. PDFLab is freeware; runs on OS X 3x or 4x; and the latest release fixes a couple of annoying (but non-fatal bugs) that existed in the previous version. Get PDFLab


Microsoft Save as PDF or XPS 1.0
Finally: if you have Microsoft Office 2007 and simply want to be able to print PDFs from Office 2007 applications, Microsoft have released an add-on that will allow you to do just that. Simply download and install Save as PDF or XPS 1.0 and you'll be able to create simple PDFs from any of Office's eight programs (ie Access, Excel, InfoPath, OneNote, PowerPoint, Publisher, Visio and Word). In order to be able to use this plug-in you'll need to have a licensed copy of Office 2007 and be running Windows XP, 2003 or Vista. You'll also need to be able to tolerate the very limited number of PDF creation options that this plug-in gives you (which - to us - looks like an afterthought that missed the marketing deadlines that all Microsoft's products have to stick to, whether they're actually ready for release or not). Against that, though, you'll have the security of knowing that the software comes from Microsoft and that it will be every bit as trustworthy, reliable and high-quality as everything else they produce. Microsoft Save as PDF or XPS 1.0


This page last updated: 04-Sep-2008



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