PDFs are great. They make digital life easier

Adobe logoWhat are PDFs? PDF stands for “Portable Document Format”. PDFs are files that anyone can open – in any operating system and on any device. Hence the name. The format was created by Adobe and they marketed it in a clever way. They made it possible for anyone at all to be able to view PDF files using their free software – Adobe Reader. The way that Adobe made their money was by charging (quite a lot, actually) for the software that created the files that were then free to view. This software was called Adobe Acrobat.

When is a PDF useful? Here’s an example. I wrote my client database using Microsoft’s Access software. One of my database’s functions is to produce client invoices. If I created an invoice in the native Access format then almost no-one would be able to open it and I would have starved by now. So, for many years I have been using Adobe Acrobat to create my invoices in PDF format that I can easily email to my clients. It seems to work: I haven’t starved yet.

Adobe Acrobat IconThings have moved on since it was necessary to have Adobe Acrobat to create PDF files. For a long time, for instance, it has been possible to create PDF files from within Microsoft Office modules – from within Word and Excel, for instance. With the introduction of Windows 10, the ability to create PDFs of more-or-less any printable file has been built right into the operating system. You can use it from within applications (such as your browser) or you can use it from File Explorer.

Let’s just clear up a possible confusion.
If you wish to create a PDF from within an application, then you might (quite reasonably) assume that you will need to “save” the file as a PDF file. This is not how it works. Instead, you have to think in terms of “printing” the file. Let us suppose you already have a printer called “HP” and another printer called “Canon”. You would select which printer you wanted to use at the time of printing the file. Creating a PDF file is just an extension of that. If you start to choose your printer, you will now see that you not only have “Canon” and “HP” to choose from, but that you will also have the option of “Microsoft Print to PDF”. Select this “printer” and you will then have the opportunity to name your PDF file and decide where to save it.

The other way of creating PDF files is from File Explorer. Simply right-click on the file, and then choose the option to “Print”. A dialog box will come up inviting you to change the name and location of the saved file. Alternatively, you can accept the defaults. A PDF version of the file will then be saved, leaving the original file intact.

Adobe-Windows10You can use the ability to “print to a pdf file” to save web pages. This can be very handy as web pages do, of course, change and even disappear over time. Saving a web page as a PDF file means that you have a permanent copy of it and you don’t need an internet connection to retrieve it. It is a fact, though, that a lot of web pages won’t be completely, accurately, rendered to a PDF file. This is nothing new. It has always been the case that printing web pages to a real printer involves bits missing, blank sections, and so on. Printing a web page to a PDF file doesn’t seem to be any less successful than printing a web page to a real printer.

It’s nice to say something positive about Windows 10 for a change, after all the negativity brought about by Microsoft’s heavy-handed tactics in getting us to upgrade. For what it’s worth, my own experience of Windows 10 (on three of my machines) has been pretty positive and printing to a PDF file is a welcome enhancement.

Here’s a bit of a dirty fix to stop Adobe Acrobat Reader from opening up the “Tools Pane” every time you open the program

Before I go any further, let’s be clear that there are (at least) two limitations to this fix:

  • It will almost certainly be reversed the next time you install an update of Adobe Reader (but you will hopefully be able to re-apply this fix)
  • It stops you using the Tools Pane at all – ie, you can’t manually turn it on again using the top menu

If you are a Mac user, then you can feel smug. The Mac version of Adobe Reader doesn’t have the Tools Pane.

But let’s go back to the beginning. What is the problem?

With the latest version of Adobe Reader (Adobe Acrobat Reader DC), every time you open a pdf document in a new Adobe Reader window, the program “steals” a large portion of your screen by displaying a “Tools Pane” to the right of your pdf file. You can close the pane by clicking Shift + F4, but it will come back again the next time you click on a pdf file to open it.

Adobe Reader with Tools Pane

See how much space is taken with the Tools Pane


Adobe Reader without Tools Pane

Aah, that’s better. Now the dog can see the rabbit.


There is no inbuilt method of turning this “feature” off. After clicking Shift + F4 for the millionth time to dismiss it, it starts to get a bit tedious and you can’t help wondering (for the millionth time) whether it’s just you who thinks that programs are increasingly being written to suit the agenda of the creator rather than the convenience of the user.

Adobe Acrobat Reader Preferences

The tools Pane can be turned off when you open second and subsequent files during a session by removing the tick next to “Open tools pane for each document”

Yes, you can stop the pane from opening for the second and subsequent documents of the current session (by editing the preferences – see the illustration), but you can’t stop the pesky little nuisance from coming back the next time you start an Adobe Reader session from scratch. Isn’t it funny how seemingly small things can drive us mad? I’ve been googling for a solution to this problem occasionally for weeks now, so I know I’m not the only person whose sanity has been threatened by this. Why is it so important? Well, apart from the general principle that I want to see my pdf file and not the program that displays it, I often find myself devoting half the screen to a pdf file (eg my bank statement) and half to something else (eg my cashflow spreadsheet). If part of the “pdf half” is wasted by displaying the tools pane, then the text in the rest of the window has to be reduced so much that I have difficulty reading it.

So here’s the fix. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this yourself, it would take me less than five minutes to do it for you when I’m either making a computer support visit to you or we’re having a Teamviewer support session.

  • Close Adobe Reader (if you have it open)
  • Open File Explorer (aka Windows Explorer)
  • Navigate to the folder where Adobe Acrobat Reader is installed (probably C:\Program Files (x86)\Adobe\Acrobat Reader DC\Reader\AcroApp\ENU)
  • Create a new sub-folder at that location. It doesn’t matter what you call it (use “disabled”, for instance)
  • Drag each of the following three files from the installation folder into the new sub- folder:

    AppCenter_R.aapp
    Home.aapp
    Viewer.aapp

That’s it. The next time you start Adobe Acrobat Reader, the Tools Pane will be mercifully absent. I’ve been getting a childish pleasure from thinking I’m putting one over on Adobe every time I open Acrobat Reader and see a lack of Tools Pane.

© 2011-2015 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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