No 3. Problems opening PDFs

Dear Aandi,

I keep getting the message "file does not begin %PDF" when I try to open files. I've made sure the name ends .pdf. What is wrong?

The message is a very simple one, but a lot of people miss the point of it. It isn't complaining about your file names, at all. It's complaining about the contents of a file. PDF files, inside, will start %PDF, on the very first line. Acrobat is saying, in effect: "this is not a PDF file". There isn't much more Acrobat can do, but you may be able to work out why this is happening. Here are some steps to consider.

Are you sure the file is supposed to be a PDF file? Double check your information. If the file isn't a PDF file and Acrobat Reader is starting, this can happen on both Mac and Windows because of accidents in the way your system is set up. In this case, you probably don't have the right software to read the file. Check with the place or person providing the file, see what they say you need. Don't be fooled by the Acrobat icon. In Windows that just means that the file name ends ".pdf", and that doesn't prove anything either! Microsoft include files named like this with several of their products, but they have no connection to Acrobat - they aren't documentation at all.

Is this a PDF file you viewed in Microsoft Internet Explorer? If so, I'll bet you used SAVE AS to save a copy of the file. Only, for reasons best known to Microsoft, it does NOT save a copy. It saves something useless instead. To save a PDF file in Internet Explorer, look at the page with the link (before or after viewing the PDF). RIGHT click on the link. A menu will appear; select SAVE TARGET AS. On the Mac, press and hold the mouse instead of right clicking.

Was this file e-mailed to you? Unfortunately, e-mail programs don't always talk to each other well. What you receive is not necessarily exactly what the sender meant. Before blaming Acrobat, try some experiments with e-mail. The sender may need to use different settings; at worst, one or both of you may have to change e-mail programs. If you are on Windows, and the file was sent from a Mac, the file may be "binhexed". You can get some free software from that will get back the original file.

None of the above? Well, I've never known Acrobat to be wrong about this. If it says a file doesn't start %PDF, then it doesn't! If you're feeling adventurous, try and open the file in something else, like a word processor. You should be able to see what the file really starts with. This may be a clue! For instance, a file starting with the two letters "PK" was made with PKZIP and needs to be un-zipped before use.

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