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 of interest to genealogists 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, Chromebook, Linux, UNIX, 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 relatively new. As an illustration, here is an excerpt from an article I published 18 yers ago in this newsletter that shows the state of the PDF format at that time. In the February 25, 2002, edition of this newsletter, I wrote:
“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. 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 18 years!
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