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:



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 Computers A Waste Of Our Time?

Here’s a story to illustrate a conundrum: If computers are such productivity boosters and time savers, how come we spend huge amounts of time trying to make them work? Marshall Brain, a writer, former teacher and consultant, tried to figure out how much time we spend on fixing computer stuff but timing it: Last month he spent 11 hours and 20 minutes solving computer problems, from fixing Mom’s printer driver (1 hour) to solving a daughter’s Christmas trauma resulting from a bad Cheerios game CD (15 minutes).

Now first off, that’s a lot of time, but I’d say not surprising. I run a small home network and am forever trying to get things working (even the Wi-Fi seems to have a life of its own.) But is it acceptable? Marshall compared it with his house repairs for the same month: replacing 2 light bulbs, zero problems with the car. “In other words,” he concludes, “there is nothing else in my life that comes close to the time being spent maintaining the computers in my home.”

So who’s to blame? Marshall has some suggestions. His main target: Microsoft. “Personally, I feel that a good bit of this waste and vulnerability is caused by Microsoft. Even more frustrating..is that Microsoft has the resources to fix the problems.” I think he’s right. While he also takes aim at boring and complex user agreements, dealing with spam and installing drivers, I feel that Microsoft, as the dominant software player in practically every field, has cavalierly ignored the problems that users have to deal with. Marshall points to the need to reboot after installing many different types of software — which if removed could “save the nation millions of man-hours per year”, the silly procedure for loading drivers (I still don’t understand exactly what Windows is searching for when you allow it to search for drivers; it never finds them unless you tell them which directory to search in, which is a bit like playing hide and seek with all the closet doors open).

I’d add my bugbear: software bugs. Microsoft, I suspect, just doesn’t fix most of the bugs that it finds. When I asked a senior MS guy about this, complaining about some Word bugs that haven’t been fixed for years, he said I was “missing the big picture”. But if I buy Word for that feature, surely it should work? That’s my big picture: I use that feature (large tables for big chunks of text) and it’s supposed to work. Who should I be sueing if it’s not fixed (answers on a postcard, please.) My suspicion is that we waste a lot of our time not just fixing stuff, but working around stupid bugs that, somehow, we’ve accepted.

As Marshall concludes in his post: “The amount of time we are all wasting on our computers right now is unacceptable, and our machines are far too unreliable.” Which brings me to my final question: Just how productive are we in the face of all this repair time? Are computers wasting our time?