Free the PDFs!

Simple Windows programs let anybody master the Portable Document Format.

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Impress your friends and relatives: Send them your own PDF files. Anyone can be a master of PDFs, those Adobe Acrobat files arriving from distant senders that magically can be opened and read by anyone using almost any computer, whether Windows PC, Mac, or even Linux. It's easy now to create your own PDFs, making it possible to finally—decades after desktop computers became popular—know they'll be seen as you intended. Even better, it can be done free.

Simple Windows programs like PrimoPDF, doPDF, and CutePDF quickly create a universal copy of your document, preserving layout and images in a form that everyone can see and read. They offer entirely free versions and make money by selling more powerful editions.

Adobe created the Portable Document Format to make it easy to exchange computer-generated papers. Recipients just need the free Acrobat Reader. Adobe still sells Acrobat itself, which is a $300 program for creating and manipulating PDFs. Other programs can create them as well, such as Microsoft Office 2007, and the capability is included in Macintosh OS X.

Free software like PrimoPDF can give any Windows program the same ability—it installs as a virtual printer within Windows. Choose it as the printer and it'll ask where to save the file, which is created as a PDF. You can attach the file to any E-mail and be confident it will arrive as intended. PDFs are also a great way to save Web pages, which you now can print as Acrobat files.

I prefer PrimoPDF because of added features such as appending and merging documents, and it comes with a user manual. You can also create Acrobat files at PrimoPDF's website if you don't want to, or can't, download and install the program. Others may prefer doPDF and CutePDF, which offer fewer options and thus are a bit simpler to use. All of them are fast, easy, and reliable—and you can't beat the price.

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computers