The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.
Adobe's popular PDF file format is often used in genealogy work. Many of the CD-ROM disks reviewed in this newsletter have been published in PDF format, as has much of the information found on genealogy web sites.
The Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) has become the de facto standard for electronic documentation distribution. Once a file is created in PDF format, anyone can read your document across a broad range of hardware and software, and it will look exactly as you intended — with layout, fonts, color, links, and images intact. In short, it will look like a document published with a desktop publishing program. It will look the same on any operating system, including Windows, Macintosh, Linux, UNIX, OS/2, and even handheld computers. Best of all, the required software to view your PDF document is completely free. As a result, everyone can read your document.
PDF files used to be considered to be "secure." That is, nobody could ever take your PDF document, import it into a word processor, and then use your data. However, that has now changed. In fact, you can now easily convert PDF files to Word .DOC files or to other formats.
This conversion capability is new. As an illustration, here is an excerpt that shows the state of the PDF format nearly ten years ago, when I wrote the February 25, 2002, edition of this newsletter:
By setting security options in Acrobat, the author can give his or her PDF documents a certain level of copy protection. One of the options available within Adobe Acrobat program that creates PDF files will prevent users from copying text or images, effectively disabling the normal “copy-and-paste” functions. Other options prevent users from printing the document or changing the features that the author has set. You can even set a password to prevent viewing by would-be users who do not have the password. To be sure, anyone who can view a document can always re-type the information by hand. However, PDF files make it very difficult to electronically extract bits and pieces of information from within a document.
I should point out that this protection is not 100% guaranteed. In fact, sophisticated hackers have succeeded in “cracking” Adobe PDF files and extracting the original information. However, a lot of software skills are needed to “crack” a PDF file. Even owners of the Adobe software that creates PDF files cannot easily “crack” a PDF file created by someone else. Only a handful of people have ever managed to open a PDF file, and one of those even spent a few days in jail for his activity. (For further details about the jailed Russian computer hacker, look at: http://www.wired.com/news/politics/0,1283,45298,00.html and http://news.com.com/2100-1001-270440.html?legacy=cnet). While not 100% safe, you can assume that, if you select the proper options, there is about a 99.99999% chance that a PDF document you create will never be “cracked” by anyone else. Few people are willing to risk incarceration for extracting data from your genealogy PDF file!
My, how the world has changed in the past ten years! Today, there are a number of programs that will extract data from a PDF file. Adobe has since given up all ideas of protecting their file format. Nobody is in danger of being incarcerated in 2011 for "cracking" a PDF file. (Of course, copyright laws still apply to the converted file.)
The first programs to appear for extracting data from PDF were difficult to use. One had to be a techie with a lot of knowledge of the underlying technology in order to use most of them. Even then, the data extracted often lost its formatting or looked a bit "weird" after being extracted. With most of these programs, the user still needed to do a lot of "clean up" work.
In the past few years, several new programs have appeared that are easy to use and require little technical knowledge. You can now easily convert PDF files to Word files or other formats with a simply point-and-click. Even better, it is no longer necessary to install software in your own computer. A number of web-based conversation services are available.
The program I used this week is so easy to use that anyone who can use a word processor can now extract a PDF file. There is no need for deep technical knowledge. You do not need Adobe Acrobat or Reader to use this new program. In addition, 99.9% of the text, formatting, and images are preserved. The converted file will look exactly like the PDF file, except that you can then edit it and add to it as you wish. In short, using this program is almost as simple as falling off a log.
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