Sometimes you just can't leave design to chance. You need to be sure that the way you design a document is the way your visitor sees it. Adobe has developed the Portable Document Format to take care of these situations.

The Adobe Acrobat Reader, which is free, displays documents page by page just the way you designed them. To create PDF files, you'll need Adobe's Acrobat Exchange, which is not free (there is an educational discount price that makes Exchange affordable, though). Once Exchange is installed, you can create your documents wherever you normally do: in your word processor, or other programs like PageMaker. Exchange will work directly with popular applications (my Word 97 program has a button I press to convert the existing document to PDF format), but as long as you're in an application that will print the document, you can send it to a special "printer" that creates the PDF file.

Once the PDF file is created you have the option of configuring how the document will look when first loaded. You can also add internal links so Acrobat can take your reader from one part of the document to another. You can add external links to sites on the web. In fact, there are more options with what you can do to the file than can be recounted here. Be sure to visit some of the resource sites if you want to find out more about Acrobat's potential.

Acrobat is not without its problems, though. The biggest problem is that the visitor to your web site must have Acrobat installed to be able to view the file. While you can add a link to Adobe's download site, you have to accept the fact that there will be a number of people who refuse to install software on their computers just to see your document. Another problem is printing. Acrobat prints very slowly on printers that don't have PostScript capability (a technology from Adobe). Since most people do not have PostScript-compatible printers, they will have to wait an unusually long time before seeing the document print (and they won't bother to print long documents if just a few pages take more than five minutes to print).