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Issue #819: April 2-8, 2023

Q: When you open a pdf file using Adobe Acrobat, the file’s actually open and you cannot change any attributes. I need to do this many times because files names are not as descriptive as I need them to be; some default names are actually cryptically non-descriptive. I have found that I can right click on a pdf file, Open Using [insert browser name], and the file opens in the browser but I am able to perform attribute changes.

What is different about viewing the file in the browser than in Adobe Acrobat that allows such changes?

– William R.
Fort Walton Beach, Florida

 A: My first thought after reading your question, William, is that you might be confusing Adobe Acrobat with Adobe Acrobat Reader.  Read on to learn why there are multiple titles from Adobe that work with PDF files, and also some of the reasons why you may not be able to change file names on the fly as you described.

The Portable Document Format (PDF) was created by Adobe Systems in the early 1990s. The purpose of this file format was to introduce a standard for representation of documents and other reference material in a format independent of software, hardware and even operating system platform.  For a many years, PDF was a proprietary format, and only Adobe’s Acrobat – a paid commercial application – could create PDFs from scratch, convert other file formats to PDF, edit the text and images contained within PDF files, add comments and annotations, password-protect PDFs, and more

Adobe created a free companion application – Acrobat Reader, to allows anyone to use PDF files.  It has fewer features than Adobe Acrobat, but still provides basic functionality, to view, print, fill out forms, and more.  However, it does not support creating or editing them.  I’ve heard many people refer one or the other of these programs as simply “Adobe” or “Acrobat”, seemingly without realizing there are two different programs.

In 2008, the PDF format was standardized and released to the control of the International Organization for Standardization, or ISO, and since then, the capability to create and edit PDFs has been incorporated into many applications, not the least of which is Microsoft Word.  Nevertheless, Adobe Acrobat, and Acrobat Reader are still around, and are top choices for people who use PDF files on a regular basis.

I don’t know if I would refer to a file’s name as an attribute, but changing a filename is a task almost always done at the Windows level using File Explorer.  There are other attributes, some of which are specific to Windows, and others that are specific to PDF files.  The Windows attributes are again, adjustable through File Explorer, and the PDF-specific attributes are adjustable via Acrobat, but not via Acrobat Reader.

Modern web browsers are generally “PDF aware” in that they have a native PDF viewer built-in, but the functionality is limited.  It will allow you only to download and view PDF files, much like Acrobat Reader.  It’s possible you have a browser extension loaded that offers more abilities.  For example, the Adobe Acrobat extension for Google Chrome allows you to mark-up, fill-in, comment on, and digitally sign PDF files, among other things, right in your browser.  If whatever extension you are using is allowing you to change the filename, it’s because the browser is opening and reading the file content into the browser, but then closing the actual file rather than keeping it marked as open.  This allows other processes to perform operations on the file. 

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