Can someone please tell me about pdf files. Do I need special software to create them? Are they flat files or do they need to be formatted in some way?
I'm no expert but most of the newer versions of graphic software can convert any document you create into a pdf file. I guess you can consider them flat when you receive them, unless you have the full version of Adobe Acrobat (not just Acrobat Reader). With Acrobat you can open up, break apart and rework the file. I've heard that depending on the changes you need to make some of the larger graphic programs let you edit out some components (I think I heard that Illustrator lets you edit text line by line).
The biggest misconception I've encountered is that if you are building a document to be printed or published you will need to make sure the printing press runs the same level and version of Acrobat that you have. If you are using a lower version of the program and they are using a newer and higher level of program, certain things won't translate well and your printing job will require more effort to make it work. They like to refer to pdf's as the most portable format for documents but presses still struggle with them.
I am web designer for our church. The secretary creates documents in pdf. I thought I should be able to link to them. However, I cannot open the files on my computer. I haven't worked with pdf files at all so I am confused.
You need to download a free version of Acrobat Reader. It is a portion of the software Adobe Acrobat (you have to buy the full program if you want to use it to make documents). There are places on the internet where you can get it for free and it downloads onto your system very quickly. Once you have it installed you can open pdf files but you won't be able to alter them, you'll only be able to see them or print them. I don't know where to direct you but you should be able to find it easily. If not, many websites that sell things over the internet have pdf files and there is usually a small statement down towards the bottom that you can click on to find Acrobat Reader and get it installed. Shop around - you'll find it.
It is not a good practice IMO to link directly to PDF files without a good reason for having them and especially without warning people first. They are relatively big files and in some browsers the file downloads to the hard drive rather than temporarily stored in cache which is annoying. LArge files can of course crash browsers or computers and so it's best that PDF files are used only for printing not for everyday web content that can just be typed up again or converted to an image to display in the browser. But all ya gotta do is upload them and that's all there is to it.
Thank you everybody for your input. quirkyquercus, I agree with you. I will continue to use html for our weekly bulletins.