PDF woes

Since I’m almost always doing important “mission-critical” stuff on my Mac, the fact that Quartz operates in a manner that parallels the PDF imaging model, thus enabling the OS to intrinsically support PDF documents, has been a real lifesaver. The most obvious benefit is that virtually any application is able to print directly to a PDF file, even on a vanilla OS X installation. Good times.
In fact it’s because of this wonderful OS-level support, that some developers were able to go over and beyond and come up with apps like Skim & Papers [free to try], which I find more endearing every single day.

In Windows, industry-giant Adobe’s Acrobat Reader is the best-known and most pervasive, distributed promiscuously at every opportunity. But for a long time now, Acrobat has consistently fallen short of my expectations. It takes too long to load up and has too many extraneous features that I briefly glimpse but have no use for and definitely don’t use on a regular basis.
There’s a very reliable PDF reader I’ve come to appreciate and that’s Foxit PDF Reader. It’s nifty, unobtrusive, very quick and for me, good enough as an all-purpose PDF reader.

However PDF “reading” isn’t that much of a problem; no matter what Acrobat remains reliable [and free]. In Windows, it’s PDF creation that is a big problem and rightly so. The advantages of using PDF are many, and I find it a crying shame that the easiest installer for a PDF authoring program is one that you have to pay for: Adobe Acrobat Professional. There are few others that provide the capability but requires additional installs of Ghostscript or some such.
One miracle binary stood out from me and it’s not surprisingly from the open source community. PDFCreator is a program that’s not really a program. Once installed, there is no standalone product per se, but basically any program that can print can now print to a virtual printer that outputs to a PDF file. The interface is transparent and idiot-proof and in my experience very very reliable. One additonal feature is that it allows multiple related PDFs to be merged.

If quality and [free] PDF creation software was rare enough, good luck finding a PDF editor at a reasonable price *coughfreecough*. One might argue the wisdom of a PDF editor; PDFs are preferable where I come from because they are “unalterable”, the next best thing to a hard copy.
But what the program really allows you to do isn’t inline word processing, but rather breaks down the PDF into its layered components which you can manipulate with a GUI and/or special scripts. This allows for a quick and dirty rearrangment for nicer-looking prints. For special occasions only.
For this I find myself thankful to the Sourceforge community for PDFedit. It does what it claims it can very well BUT involves the additonal “hassle” of requiring a native Cygwin installation. For the uninitiated, Cygwin is a Linux environment for Windows.

These three programs have made PDF management a whole lot easier in my Doze use. Hope it helps you guys too.

  • Cameron

    Free Editor? There are a couple of free PDF editors out there.

    (1) PDFescape – http://www.pdfescape.com
    A web based free PDF editor, easy to use. Windows / Mac / Linux ready

    (2) PDF Hammer – http://www.pdfhammer.com
    More of a PDF page rearranger than anything, but free

    (3) Open Office
    Has some minimal PDF editing features, however is really more of a PDF import.

  • Ok, thanks for the heads-up Cameron!

  • I had someone else also recommend Oo.org since it has the native ability to save to PDF and thus was a better solution than PDFCreator. While the inbuilt export function IS wonderful, what PDF Creator allows one to do is in-situ PDF saves, for example “printing” a webpage to PDF from the browser itself or exporting a Illustrator SVG or Photoshop template as a PDF from the prgram itself, instead of messy copy-paste madness into Oo.org.

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