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Computing Thoughts
Postscript and Acrobat
by Bruce Eckel
September 25, 2005
It's not uncommon to run across technical papers published in postscript. It's not clear to me why people still do this, but until yesterday I've never had the patience to figure out how to read them.


Acrobat claims that it can convert postscript, but every time I've tried it, it failed and blamed the postscript. I began thinking that Adobe just hadn't put in the necessary effort.

This was reinforced when a friend blithely agreed to the popup that suggested she upgrade to the latest Acrobat. Acrobat has always been pretty reliable, why not? But when she did, Acrobat stopped working. When we looked at the latest upgrades, each point release seemed to be a bug-fix for the previous point release, and if you wanted to install the latest version, you had to start with the basic installation and then install all the point releases one-by-one. Looks like Adobe has wandered into the land of bad software. Don't agree to upgrade unless you're in the mood to be an explorer in that land.

This worries me, because Adobe has just acquired Macromedia. Will Flash begin to falter under Adobe's bad software practices?

My friend was saved by an unlikely source: Microsoft. If you are unfamiliar with Windows XP's "System Restore" (generally found under Accessories|System Tools), it's definitely the most brilliant feature in XP. You can explicitly place milestones, and every few days it places its own. If you install a piece of software that messes things up (like Acrobat, in this case), you can back up to a previous milestone, when things were working. It doesn't mess with your data files, only your software installations. It's repaired a number of boo-boos, and it's really good to know it's there. I'm hoping that Windows "Vista" has one or two features of that calibre to make it worth the probable pain of upgrading (tempted, but unable to switch to OSX just yet; hoping that OSX for Windows will allow easy dual booting).

Anyway, in my quest to read the postscript file, I decided to look at my Cygwin installation. If you're not familiar with Cygwin, it's basically "Unix on Windows," it's free, and it's solved many, many problems for me over the years. I probably didn't install Ghostscript correctly, because that didn't seem to work. So I ran "apropos postscript" (apropos tells you what programs might be appropriate for the arguments that you give it) and it showed me the ps2pdf command, which instantly converted my document into a PDF that Acrobat had no trouble displaying.

Another thing that makes me worry about Adobe: Acrobat has always been very slow to start up; it's one of the painful things about using the product. But Adobe has never, apparently, felt the need to speed it up, even when there has been (apparently for several years) at least one addon tool that speeds up your Acrobat startup, the Adobe Reader SpeedUp. I've used this for a year or two and it's been great; it's really reduced the pain of using Acrobat. So if someone can write a tool that, from the outside without the source code, can manipulate Acrobat and speed it up, why wouldn't Adobe improve their own product to be faster? It's no wonder I'm concerned about what will happen to Flash.

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About the Blogger

Bruce Eckel ( provides development assistance in Python with user interfaces in Flex. He is the author of Thinking in Java (Prentice-Hall, 1998, 2nd Edition, 2000, 3rd Edition, 2003, 4th Edition, 2005), the Hands-On Java Seminar CD ROM (available on the Web site), Thinking in C++ (PH 1995; 2nd edition 2000, Volume 2 with Chuck Allison, 2003), C++ Inside & Out (Osborne/McGraw-Hill 1993), among others. He's given hundreds of presentations throughout the world, published over 150 articles in numerous magazines, was a founding member of the ANSI/ISO C++ committee and speaks regularly at conferences.

This weblog entry is Copyright © 2005 Bruce Eckel. All rights reserved.

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