What is a PDF? Do I need Adobe? Why isn't it free?

January 30, 2009 / Updated: January 30, 2009 / Lena Shore

Question

I used to have Adobe (for free) until my computer crashed and burned a few weeks ago.  I keep running into things that say they can only run on Adobe so I went to download it again but now I find that they charge for it.  Do I really need Adobe to run those different things or is there a way to run them with the basic Windows XP or do you have no idea because you don’t know what’s loaded on my computer?  Is there any way to get it for free again?  Somehow it really bugs me that now they are charging for stuff that used to be free!  I really don’t know exactly what a PDF is altho I read the explanation–I did use it before but as I recall some things were duplicated and I was overlapping on stuff like pictures.

Answer

Whew. This situation has you all in a lather doesn’t it? No fear, I have all the answers for you. Let’s break down this question into parts to answer it fully.

I really don’t know exactly what a PDF is altho I read the explanation–I did use it before but as I recall some things were duplicated and I was overlapping on stuff like pictures.  

PDF stands for “Portable Document Format”. Portable, in this case, means something that is easy to share with just about anyone on the computer. It was designed by Adobe to make it easy to share documents. A single format that works well across different kinds of computers (Mac, Linux, Windows, etc). The format contains all the graphics and fonts so it looks good to everyone.

I keep running into things that say they can only run on Adobe so I went to download it again but now I find that they charge for it. 

First, Adobe is a company, not a program. They produce lots of different products such as Photoshop, Acrobat, InDesign, Flash, Illustrator, Dreamweaver and many others. A lot of people say “Adobe” the way they use the word “Kleenex” or “Xerox”. These are company names that people associate with the product (PDF reader, tissues, or copies). This can get confusing if you aren’t familiar with all of their products.

Do I really need Adobe to run those different things or is there a way to run them with the basic Windows XP? 

If you are using Windows, you need to get a version of Acrobat to read PDF files. If you are on a Macintosh, it comes with a built in program called Preview that will read PDF files.

What you are looking for is Adobe Acrobat.Acrobat comes in two flavors.

The first one is “Adobe Acrobat” which is the full version of the program that has editing capabilities. It can be used to read PDFs, create forms, do prepress work and many other things. Unless you are in the graphics or print business, it is doubtful you will ever need this.

The second one is “Adobe Acrobat Reader”. This allows you to view PDF files, but you can’t edit them. I would venture to say that 99% of the population who read PDFs only need this version.

 Is there any way to get it for free again?  Somehow it really bugs me that now they are charging for stuff that used to be free! 

You can’t have Acrobat for free, as it is a professional program, but you can get Acrobat Reader for free as it has always been. You can download Acrobat Reader from adobe.com or by clicking this link.

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Lena Shore

Lena is a full-time freelancer and nerd that specializes in web development, graphic design, and illustration. She enjoys building things, learning new things, pursuing creative endeavors, and giving free advice.

6 Comments

  1. Erica on July 30, 2019 at 4:38 am

    I just started getting my paychecks thru adobe but it won’t let me see it how do I set it up for free im new at this and have no idea .?

  2. hans on June 2, 2009 at 11:41 am

    i like bioPDF as a pdf creator. its free 🙂

  3. Lena on May 23, 2009 at 6:58 am

    Thanks for the extra info Heather! Very helpful for the Windows users out there!

  4. Heather on May 22, 2009 at 10:41 pm

    Actually there are multiple, smaller and easier to use free pdf readers that work on Windows as well as on other platforms including Linux. (Good examples here: http://www.foxitsoftware.com/pdf/reader/ and here: http://www.visagesoft.com/products/pdfreader/ and more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_PDF_software. I learned this in my prelinux days when I got sick of downloading Acrobat only to find it bundled with tons of junk I didn’t want.

    There is also a bigger program that both reads and can create pdfs (which is important to have for a lot of things) and is free: open office (also cross platform and though bulkier still smaller than the Microsoft version and open source.)

    I should note that you did a great job answering the real question as well as all the confusion around it.

  5. Lena on February 2, 2009 at 10:21 am

    You are welcome. Glad I could help. :biggrin:

  6. Kathy on January 30, 2009 at 11:04 pm

    THANK YOU!!!!!! Yep, I was hot and bothered. I know just enough to get me into trouble and not enough to get back out again. Thank you very much for solving my problem. Love you, Kathy

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