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Portable Document Format is a proprietary format owned by Adobe, Corp (the folks who brought us postscript).
A PDF file is a binary file containing page layout language somewhat like but far more precise than HTML. It is popular because, when viewed with an Adobe PDF viewer or printed from such a viewer it creates a page image that is exactly the same as that created by the author (of course the now freely available postscript does the same). Very popular for print out and mail in forms (eg IRS forms, fortunately the IRS also provides postscript)
The PDF Viewer is free but most be downloaded from the Adobe site and installed on the user local machine (while free and open source postscript viewers are available). One can post PDF on a www site and user who has the viewer installed can click on the link and view the document (after the viewer starts up, a slow and resource intensive process). In practice they seem to change the standard pretty frequently so PDF files don't actually work for the typical WWW user as often as not. Whether one can print, search or save the PDF file seems to depend on how it was created by the author and which PSF authoring tool they used).
To create PDF requires a proprietary and costly program from Adobe. Don't know much about the details.
I don't like PDF myself. Half the time I download a PDF file (only when no option is available) my viewer bombs after taxing my machine for many minutes. I think the IRS has proved without a doubt that the same effect (WYSIWYG) can be acheived with the more stable postscript.
Other functionality can be provided much better with HTML (except perhaps for vector graphics). One "feature" PDF seemd to provide is the ability to post information that is very difficult for others to save or modify.