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Operating Systems

Work with PDF files sans Adobe Acrobat

Free programs and Web services let you create, edit, and convert PDFs, although they lack Acrobat's bells and whistles.

Some programs are more trouble than they're worth.

I'm a big fan of the PDF file format. It lets you share files with people using almost any type of computer without worrying about whether they have the right program installed to view it, or whether it will look to them the way it looks to you.

The problem is Adobe Systems' Acrobat, which is simply more software than I need to meet my meager PDF requirements. (It's also more annoying than any two Office apps combined.)

The fact is, you can create, convert, and edit PDF files without adding any software to your system. And if the files you work with are small in size and number, you can do so without paying a dime by using the Zamzar e-mail-based conversion service.

Files converted, delivered to your in-box
Have you ever wished you could open a PDF file in Word? There are plenty of programs that let you convert a PDF to Word's .doc format (or some other file format that Word supports), but you can manage the same trick for free at Zamzar.

Just select the file on your PC, choose the format you want to convert it to from the service's drop-down list (it supports many different image, text, audio, and video formats), enter your e-mail address, and click the Convert button. In just a few seconds, an e-mail arrives with a link to a page on the Zamzar site from which you can download the converted file.

Zamzar's file-format-conversion service
Convert PDFs to other formats for free at Zamzar

Zamzar is free for files smaller than 100MB and up to five concurrent conversions. The service gives you one week to retrieve the converted file. For $7 a month you can convert files as large as 200MB, have up to seven conversions at one time, and store up to 5GB of files on the service. If you pay $16 a month, the file-size limit expands to 400MB, concurrent conversions to 10, and online storage to 20GB. The top-tiered service costs $49 a month for converting files as large as 1GB, up to 15 simultaneous conversions, and 100GB of storage.

The fee-based services also give you higher-priority delivery of your converted files, a personal in-box, ad-less pages (with the top two tiers), and the ability to delete and rename your files. The most expensive plan also lets you encrypt your converted files.

Use Gmail's built-in 'conversion'
An even quicker way to get a different view of your PDF files is to attach them to an e-mail you send to your Gmail account, and then click View as HTML to open the file in your browser, though this shows you only the text of the file. Then you can save it as an HTML or text file and reopen it for editing in Word or some other application.

Tomorrow: confessions of a Linux newbie.