One of the greatest advances in computer technology is not Windows 8. Sorry, Steve Ballmer (pardon us while we make mean and kick a man when he's down), but it's not even close.
Our pick for the one thing that brought us all together in a kumbaya moment in the history of technology is the simple pdf file. PDF stands for portable document format. It's something so basic, precious and useful that you'll want to take one out of your hip pocket from time to time and admire it from now until Ballmer retires.
Developed by Adobe Systems more than two decades ago, pdf files can be read by just about any operating system, except maybe CP/M. (You've got to be ancient to remember that operating system, which came before DOS took over the world and made CP/M the Betamax of computer operating systems.) Shortly after it developed pdf files, Adobe made its Reader program free to one and all. With it, the masses can read pdf files, which can contain text, graphics and pretty much everything else you'd expect in a modern document.
But what if you want to create your own pdf file? You could fork over hundreds of greenbacks for Adobe Acrobat, the gold standard for creating pdf files. Or you could put those greenbacks to better use _ for an iPad Mini, for instance _ and get a program called PDF Converter, from Nuance Communications Inc. It comes in all sizes, from a free one to versions that cost $50 and $100. The more you pay, of course, the more powerful the program becomes. I tested PDF Converter Professional 8, which costs $100, but is often discounted. To say it blew me away is not hyperbole.
Working with a word-processor-like interface, PDF Converter will guide you through the process of creating a unique pdf document. If it's graphics you want, you need only import them, even from a scanner. The scanning part is seamless. You can collaborate on a document with your comrades in Newfoundland, make notes in the margin, even ask, "Who wrote this dribble?" As you add talking points to your document, connecting lines are drawn to each passage that your committee is messing with. When you're finished, you can export it to Microsoft Word for further tweaking. If you're so inclined, you can use the program's voice-recognition component to dictate content.
But what really blew me away is a feature that allows you to produce fill-in-the-blank documents. The last time I used one of those was for a pdf mortgage application. This feature alone is worth the price of the program. It's easy, too, to open documents from cloud storage programs such as Dropbox. In short, just about anything you can do in the more-expensive Adobe Acrobat, you can do in PDF Converter Professional.
It's compatible with Windows 8 and works on earlier versions of Windows. Give Mr. Ballmer credit for making Windows code available. A Mac version also is available.