Tag Archives: ISO standards

Confessions of a PDF Hater

There’s a lot of discussion about the ongoing spat between Microsoft and Adobe over whether Microsoft will be able to install PDF/Acrobat support in its next version of Office. This should be as straightforward as PDF support in OpenOffice — where you can choose to save (well, print, technically speaking) a file as an Acrobat PDF. But it’s not. Allowing a niche, free, office suite like OpenOffice to add this for free is one thing, but for the market giant Microsoft — who are preparing a PDF rival, XPS — to do it is another. So as things stand at the moment, Office users will be abe to have PDF support, but not out-of-the-box: They’ll have to install it as a download plug-in. Not too arduous, but as comments on the blog of Brian Jones, Microsoft’s Program Manager, suggest, a lot of folk won’t do that.

Everyone’s talking about this issue, blaming Microsoft, blaming Adobe, but no one seems to be asking a question I’ve been mulling for years: Why are Adobe Acrobat files so hard to use, and the Adobe programs to make and maniuplate them so darned user unfriendly? I’ve been using Acrobat reader and Acrobat for years, and each version I hope is going to be a little more intuitive and easier to understand. And yet every time I try to do something a little bit different or more complicated than simply saving a file or extracting a line of text I run into problems.

I’ve found no straightforward, wizard-type way to tweak a saved file to balance reduced file size with reduced quality of images. This means that I — and I’m sure lots of other folk, including a friend of mine who yesterday received a PDF file from a major international organisation that was 7 MB in size, had Chinese characters that appeared as gibberish on her screen — can’t easily use what should be the most powerful features in what should be a great program.

And don’t get me started on the naff way that the Adobe Reader includes a promo for the Yahoo! Toolbar — how low do you have to stoop? — and, next to it, a helpful search box. How many people have entered text in that box thinking it’s to search the active PDF document, only to find that it’s actually a Yahoo! search box?

Acrobat2

Perhaps it’s something to do with the fact that it looks remarkably similar to the Adobe “find” box that appears if you hit Control+f:

Acrobat3

It’s telling that most of the best PDF tools are not actually Adobe’s at all, but simple PDF makers that bypass the whole Acrobat maker process. (My list of these programs is here, although it needs some updating. Here’s a free PDFCreator which will allow you to print to PDF from any Windows program.)

Sure, PDFs are great for the security measures they build in, and they have definitely changed the way people exchange and collaborate over documents. But usability has not improved. So if Microsoft or anyone can come up with a better format that’s easier to work with, I’m all for it.

Acrobat Converting Software

Here’s a list of services and products that create documents in Adobe’s  “Portable Document Format” (PDF). (Much of this is drawn from Merle’s article on WebProNews)

Software that creates PDF files from other files

  • PDFMoto: A Web publishing system that converts documents you create in any Windows application into PDF. They offer several different versions, so pricing varies, but they do offer a free version that is limited to 50 documents.
  • PDF995 : Free software that allows you to create PDF documents as easily as hitting the “print” key from within any application. The free version has an advertising splash page that comes up everytime you run the program but you can purchase “keys” for $9.95 each to remove them if they bother you.
  • Txt2PDF: a Perl 5 program that converts your old text docs to PDF format. Runs on any platform that supports Perl. From $40.
  • Gymnast: freeware text to PDF creator for Windows.
  • CutePDF Printer: totally free. This software has no annoying ads or banners. Choose print from within any application to create a PDF instantly.
  • Win2PDF: Windows NT, Win 2000 or XP. From $35 to $70.
  • PDFCreator: an open-source project on SourceForge.net, installing as a printer driver. (Thanks cmswire for this one, and pointing to the original story.)
  • pdfFactory: quite advanced PDF creator, including multiple documents into one PDF, preview and font embedding.

Suites that include PDF conversion

The following office suites include PDF printing as part of the standard package:

Other products, such as PaperPort ($100 to $200) and PaperMaster Pro ($200) will allow you to scan or convert a file to PDF as part of the program’s overall document management system.

Online Services

  • Adobe Look in the left hand column for the button that says “create PDF online.” You can create up to five documents free; after that you’ll need to pay $10 a month or $100 per year for unlimited usage.
  • GoBlc Free online conversion service that will email you the results.

Software to convert PDF files

Software that turns an Acrobat file into something you can edit in another program:

  • PDFConverter: converts PDF to Microsoft Word (this won’t work with scanned image PDF files) ($50)
  • OmniPage: converts any kind of PDF file into an Office document; will also scan or convert an existing document into PDF ($600).

Going To PDF And Back

Here’s a list of services and products that create documents in Adobe’s Acrobat “Portable Document Format” (PDF). (Much of this is drawn from Merle’s article on WebProNews)

(This list will be expanded on and updated at loose wire cache, this blog’s more permanent library.)

Software to convert files to PDF

Software that creates PDF files from other files:

PDFMoto: A Web publishing system that converts documents you create in any Windows application into PDF. They offer several different versions, so pricing varies, but they do offer a free version that is limited to 50 documents.

PDF995 : Free software that allows you to create PDF documents as easily as hitting the “print” key from within any application. The free version has an advertising splash page that comes up everytime you run the program but you can purchase “keys” for $9.95 each to remove them if they bother you.

Txt2PDF: a Perl 5 program that converts your old text docs to PDF format. Runs on any platform that supports Perl. From $40.

Gymnast: freeware text to PDF creator for Windows.

CutePDF Printer: totally free. This software has no annoying ads or banners. Choose print from within any application to create a PDF instantly.

Win2PDF: Windows NT, Win 2000 or XP. From $35 to $70.

PDFCreator: an open-source project on SourceForge.net, installing as a printer driver. (Thanks cmswire for this one, and pointing to the original story.)

pdfFactory: quite advanced PDF creator, including multiple documents into one PDF, preview and font embedding.

Suites that include PDF conversion

The following office suites include PDF printing as part of the standard package:

OpenOffice

StarOffice

WordPerfect Office 11

Other products, such as PaperPort ($100 to $200) and PaperMaster Pro ($200) will allow you to scan or convert a file to PDF as part of the program’s overall document management system.

Online Services

Services that

Adobe Look in the left hand column for the button that says “create PDF online.” You can create up to five documents free; after that you’ll need to pay $10 a month or $100 per year for unlimited usage.

GoBlc Free online conversion service that will email you the results.

Software to convert PDF files

Software that turns an Acrobat file into something you can edit in another program

PDFConverter: converts PDF to Microsoft Word (this won’t work with scanned image PDF files) ($50)

OmniPage: converts any kind of PDF file into an Office document; will also scan or convert an existing document into PDF ($600).

Are Privacy Fears About RFID Tags Just Hype?

Reports that delegates to the World Summit on the Information Society conference in Geneva were unwittingly wearing RFID tags which could have tracked their movements, attendance at meetings or seminars, visits to the john etc etc has raised some debate about RFID (Radio Frequency ID), privacy, security and the rights of the individual to know what the tag around their neck actually tells people about them.

My posting, which didn’t actually make any specific comment about the news, prompted this from Mike Rowehl of Bitsplitter who says, among other things, that “sure, there are plenty of issues to be worked through with RFID, but it’s hardly the boogeyman that everyone makes it out to be. A cell phone can just as easily (and in the future, more easily most likely) be used to determine a users location”.

Actually, Mike, I’m not sure that’s right. Cellphones work in large areas, and can narrow the location of a phone (and its user) down to quite a small area, but RFID works in small, enclosed areas. As one of the delegates, Olivier Piou of Axalto told the conference last Friday:

Wireless technologies also present a similar threat to privacy: while it is relatively easy to turn off a cellular phone (because all of them have an ON/OFF button!), radio-frequency identification systems – also known as RFID or contactless systems – are activated from a distance. It becomes so very easy to install a reading antenna, in the subway or in any place like in this conference room, to detect who is there without awareness and consent.

Numerous books and movies have predicted that our civil society would not be wise enough to protect its basic universal human rights in this digital age. However, the more we have powerful tools available to us, the more we have the duty to use them for the best of humanity. This is why I wanted to raise your awareness today.

This is why also, we at Axalto believe that it is essential that digital identity be designed to ensure trust and confidence in modern digital systems, and that it be combined with conventional physical identity into a secure portable object that citizens can voluntarily present to be identified, to authorities in the physical world and to on-line services in the virtual world.

That this comes from an industry insider — Axalto is the new name of Schlumberger unit SmartCards, of which Olivier Piou has been president since 1998; he has been in the smart card business since 1994. (Smart cards are microprocessor cards used mainly for ID) — should give some weight to concerns raised by the use of RFID at the summit. That the summit itself, supposedly concerning itself with the information society, should not be more aware of a) the privacy aspects of its tags and b) unable to answer questions raised by privacy advocates, does not inspire confidence.

While I don’t agree with the more outlandish claims that RFID is a new kind of big brother, there’s little doubt in my mind that it’s a technology which needs some serious attention before it can be deployed in public.

Column: the paper mountain

Loose Wire — Conquer That Paper Mountain: It’s time to get organized; Here’s some software to help you scan and locate photos and documents; But perhaps you shouldn’t ditch the filing cabinet just yet

By Jeremy Wagstaff
 
from the 29 May 2003 edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review, (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
I’m a little suspicious of programs that, adorned with images of bits of paper and photos disappearing into a smiling computer monitor, promise to give order to the junk that is my life. The paperless office never happened — we still make printouts because it’s so easy — and while everyone seems to be photographing digitally these days, that doesn’t sort out our cupboards full of snaps. And even if this stuff does find its way onto your computer, chances are it’s all over the place, in subfolders with obscure names. A sort of digital chaos, really.

I don’t promise an end to all that. And the programs I’m about to tout are not really a new idea, but they both do a better job than their predecessors of helping you to get organized, whether you’re trying to sift through documents already on your computer, or get a handle on your photos.

First off, Scansoft’s PaperPort (deluxe version, $100 from www.scansoft.com/paperport/). Into its ninth version, it’s a lot more sophisticated than its forbears. PaperPort and its competitors allow you to scan documents into the computer, and then let you organize and view those documents into folders of your choosing. You can then convert them to digital text, a process called OCR or Optical Character Recognition, which in turn allows you to move chunks of the original document into a word-processing file. In theory it’s a great way to get rid of paper clutter on your desk, helping you to find those documents — or parts of them — easily, or to convert them to something you can use in your spreadsheet, document or whatever. In practice, it’s too much of a fiddle. Most folk find it easier to locate the hard copy of a document (behind the bookcase, next to the dead cockroach) than the soft one (What name did I give it? What keyword should I use to find it?), so they just buy another filing cabinet.

PaperPort hasn’t resolved the riddle of why we can always locate something under a messy pile of papers, but never after we’ve cleaned up, but it’s a few steps closer to making it easier to handle documents on your PC. First, you can scan them in a format called PDF, short for Adobe’s Portable Document Format, a widely used standard for viewing documents. By working within this standard — rather than PaperPort’s proprietary standard — everything you scan in PaperPort can be accessed and handled by other programs, or by folk who don’t use PaperPort. Common sense, I know, and they’ve got there at last. Another common-sense feature is a search function that allows you to search through an index of documents, whatever format they’re in, within PaperPort.

For a long time I’ve used PaperMaster, now owned by J2Global, the Internet-faxing company, which promises to have an updated version available later this year. PaperMaster does pretty much what PaperPort does, but it’s been doing it a lot longer and it actually looks like a filing cabinet, which I find reassuring. But it doesn’t work well with Windows XP, and is looking somewhat dated. Most importantly, it won’t save your scans in a file format recognized by anyone else on this planet. What’s more, it sometimes loses whole drawers of documents, which kind of defeats the object of the exercise.

So check out PaperPort. It will handle photos too, but if you’ve got a lot of them, I’d suggest Adobe’s new Photoshop Album ($50 from www.adobe.com/products/photoshopalbum/). Album is elbowing for space among a lot of similar products vying for the burgeoning home-photo market, but it has features and a very intuitive interface that I suspect will put it ahead of the pack.

Basically, it can collate pictures from more or less any source — scanning, digital images on your hard drive, on a digital camera, on a CD-ROM — and give you the tools to touch them up, label them, order them around and generally beat them into submission. You can create the usual things with them — albums, video disks, printouts, slide shows and whatnot — all in as tasteful a way as you can expect from a homespun photo album. I particularly liked the way you could tag photos more than once so, say, a picture of your Uncle Charlie doing the gardening in his pantomime costume could be categorized both under Family and Environmental Pollution Hazard. All in all, a smart program, and not badly priced.

Gripes? They’re a bit stingy on the tools they provide to touch up photos, so all the facial blemishes of my adolescent years are still there if you look closely.

These programs won’t change our lives. They may only make a dent in a filing cabinet and photo drawer. But they’re good enough for what they try to do, which is to lend a little order to our pre-paperless lives.