Most people who have spent any time surfing the Internet have encountered Adobe Acrobat files. For example, the IRS puts all its tax forms online as Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF) files. The virtue of a PDF file is that it looks just like you designed it even when displayed on other systems using different fonts or operating systems. All the fonts, pictures, and layout look just like they do on your system.
If you've ever tried to open a PDF file, you've probably followed a link to download the free Acrobat Reader from Adobe's Web site (http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/main.html). Once you have installed the Reader, you can look at other people's PDF files.
PDF files are a great idea, and eventually you may want to create one so you can share an important file with someone else. But here's where you encounter a problem. The Acrobat Reader is free. The full version of Adobe Acrobat is not. The bad news is that the full version of Adobe Acrobat is expensive ($249 retail).
This price makes buying Adobe Acrobat impractical for a lot of users out there who just occasionally want to create simple PDF files to share. However, there are a number of alternative software products you can use to create your own PDF files. Shareware authors have apparently noticed that Acrobat is expensive and have written their own alternatives. This process isn't as difficult as it may seem because Acrobat is based on the Postscript page description language which has been around a long time. Adobe has even published the specification for PDF so other developers can include PDF creation into their applications.
If you go to your favorite shareware sites, you'll find a range of PDF creation software. For example, pdf995 (http://www.pdf995.com) is a low-end alternative to Adobe Acrobat. You can download it free and if you want to avoid looking at "sponsor" pages, you can register it for $9.95. Another more upscale shareware product is called PDF Factory (http://www.fineprint.com/), which costs $49.99 to register the plain vanilla version, or $99 for PDF Factory Pro, which includes features for people who need secure PDFs, which can't be edited.
These are just two of a slew of PDF creation products out there. Most of them let you try before you buy, so it's worth downloading a few demos to see which one works best for the files you need to turn into PDFs.