Paper or Plastic? Reader or Acrobat?

Your Help Desk team has responded to several Adobe inquiries recently, specifically Adobe’s Reader and Acrobat programs.  There can be some confusion when working with these two programs… so with my first issue of Keith’s Tech Tips, I’d like to help demystify these programs so users understand when to use one versus the other.  

Adobe Reader:
The Adobe Reader program is a free, limited-feature program originally designed to simply view (or “read”, hence the name) PDF files.  Nowadays, it can do a bit more than view PDFs but it is still used primarily for reading existing PDF documents.  Because of the popularity of the PDF format, the Adobe Reader program is a “must have” on both Macs and PCs.

Adobe Acrobat:
Many folks mistakenly think Adobe’s Acrobat it is a word processing program for creating/editing PDF files. In reality, Acrobat is a conversion program designed to take an existing document, such as a Word document… and “convert it” into a PDF document.

Although you can edit existing PDFs using Acrobat, I wouldn’t recommend it and here’s why:

  • It wasn’t originally designed with editing functionality in mind
  • Editing features are very clunky, as if an afterthought and difficult to learn
  • The learning curve is steep and most users will run out of patience before mastery

Since most users are already familiar with Word… you can save yourself some frustration by simply editing the existing Word document using “Word” first… then converting it again into another PDF using Acrobat. However, if you’re not already well organized, this process can lead to multiple iterations of the same document. Hey, there’s fodder for a future issue! (Hello Mudder, Hello Fodder… sing along if you know the lyrics… all together now!)

What’s Next?
Many times when you’re wanting to just view a PDF file and you double-click on the PDF icon… it opens up inside Acrobat (the conversion program) when you’re expecting (or wanting) it to open up inside Reader (the viewing program). This has to do with “file association” and I will cover that (and the easy fix) in detail in next month’s issue.

Stay tuned:
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2 thoughts on “Paper or Plastic? Reader or Acrobat?

  1. Hi Keith,
    Your explanation of Reader & Pro cleared up certain Acrobat mysteries for me. Thanks.

  2. There’s actually no good reason to have Acrobat (Reader or Pro) on a Mac unless you’re doing some really serious design work or printing badly made PostScript or PDF (usually coming from Windows). Preview, built into Mac OS X, does everything Reader does, and isn’t the mass of security holes that Acrobat seems to be these days. Skim is another PDF reader that has some additional note-taking functionality.

    As you note, the editing features in Acrobat are really meant for oh-crap-the-magazine-goes-to-press-in-five-minutes-and-I-just-noticed-a-typo situations, not for creating new documents, or even seriously editing existing ones. Creating PDFs is built into the Mac’s print drivers—if you can print, you can get a PDF file. Even on Windows, you can get PDF from almost any application with free tools such as PDFCreator.

    Sadly, Microsoft chose not to implement a built-in PDF viewer for Windows. But there are free tools available (without Adobe’s ads), such as Sumatra.

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