DIY

No one should have to be an Acrobat to use PDFs

The Portable Document Format is great, but Adobe would have us believe that they're the only game in town when it comes to working with those types of files. That's not true at all; here are some of my preferred Acrobat alternatives.

I've had some horrible luck with Adobe's Acrobat product line in the past. From failed upgrade routines to inexplicable crashes, their products for Windows have never impressed me all that much. I also don't appreciate the fact that PDF creation is a privilege Adobe would have Windows users pay for. The Portable Document Format was developed with the intention of creating an open standard, and that's reflected on other operating systems. There are open-source PDF tools available for Unix and Linux platforms, and Mac OS X can create PDF files right out of the box.

I'm a firm believer in PDF as a durable document storage format, and my dissatisfaction with the tools Adobe would have us use to work with them sent me looking for other options. My requirements are pretty simple. I need to be able to reliably view PDF files, and I want to be able to make PDFs from my own documents, all without having to take out a bank loan to pay licensing fees. Check out a few of the ways I've found to avoid using Adobe Acrobat.

  • As I mentioned earlier, Mac users have it perhaps the easiest of us all. OS X can create PDFs from any document directly from the Print dialog with no additional software required. Also, Apple's included image viewer Preview.app serves as a competent PDF reader.
  • The free OpenOffice suite can output documents as PDFs on Linux.
  • Ghostscript started out as a PDF interpreter for the Unix-like operating systems, and that project spawned Ghostview and GSview. Versions of these programs exist for Windows and Mac OS as well. The ps2pdf portion of the package will allow you to create PDFs from Postscript files.
  • My one-two punch for PDF productivity on Windows consists of Foxit Reader and PrimoPDF. While neither of these packages are open source, both are free. Foxit Reader is a lightweight PDF viewer that's been able to handle everything that I've thrown at it. All that it's missing when compared to Adobe's Reader is a browser plugin, but frankly, Foxit's so fast at rendering files that the omission doesn't really bother me. PrimoPDF creates a virtual printer that you can use to make PDF files from your own documents, and it includes the ability to embed password protection and custom metadata in your PDFs.

If your PDF management tasks aren't any more complicated than mine, any of these suggestions will serve you well. Fewer options exist if you need to edit inside your PDF files. No fear though, you don't have to go back to Adobe with your tail between your legs. Foxit Reader can be upgraded to add commenting features and editing capabilities at half the cost of Adobe's offerings. And for those who aren't afraid of using the command line, Sid Steward's pdftk is a great PDF multi-tool that is freely available for all major operating systems.

86 comments
bladeofudun
bladeofudun

Recently I've become amazingly frustrated with the whole PDF thing anyway. I do not want a collection of scans of an instruction manual that I'd rather have on paper anyway. Or if we're gonna use PDF, can we have a PDF reader that will make it act just like that original manual? If there already is one and I just don't know it, please tell me...

england_claudio
england_claudio

Adobe reader is the only reader for windows I know that reads .ps files so I have to use it as it is used a lot here at university. Does anyone know of a free .ps reader that is not from adobe?

seanferd
seanferd

This is one reason I loved Foxit. I could not stop Acrobat from loading PDFs that I wanted to download. Foxit lets me avoid that. Its footprint is much smaller than Acrobat, with its plug-ins, updater, and other fairly hidden companion apps, plus the install files backups. Loads much faster than Acrobat, also. This is almost entirely from the perspective of someone who views, rather than creates PDF files. When I've had to concatenate or edit PDFs, I've used the tools from Software 995, and something else I can't quite recall at the moment. I can't say I ever enjoyed the (rather minimal)experiences I've had using Acrobat, but at least the Reader wasn't such a beast say, 8 years ago. I can totally mesh with what Mr. Jones is saying here.

treibs
treibs

I generate PDF files with WordPerfect. Just use "Publish to PDF" rather than "Print." I can e-mail the PDF documents as attachments without being concerned whether the recipient is using Windows, a Mac, or Linux; all can read the document with whatever PDF reader they are using. All the recent releases of WordPerfect have this capability.

barryr
barryr

Has anyone run across a free pdf creator with an sdk which would allow me to create pdfs from VBA and create an Outlook message with the pdf as an attahment?

Pcfreakske2000
Pcfreakske2000

Well, I don't use Adobe Reader anymore either. I use Foxit Reader and it works much faster and you can read PDFs with it much faster.

basil.cinnamon
basil.cinnamon

Ah, but nobody can create index in a form compatible with Adobe. U.S. government and some foreign regulatory bodies want submissions in PDFs with full indices. Anybody have non-Adobe experience with this feature?

uberg33k50
uberg33k50

Here is a link to a free .PDF creator that I use. http://www.dopdf.com/ I got tired of having to reinstall Adobe when it stopped working for no apparent reason.

psaphoto
psaphoto

I use Serif's Desktop Publishing Program "PagePlus X2". It can open PDF's and you can edit them. Our medical office is required to to use Medical Associations, Government, and Insurance PDF forms but most are not set up to "fill in the blank's" and I am able to do that so all of the employee's can use, save, and send them with Adobe Reader. The drawback is the $100 dollar list price, still way cheaper than Adobe Acrobat Professional. Mark

russ56441
russ56441

I use the free 'eXPert PDF Reader' from Visage. http://downloads.zdnet.com/download.aspx?&compid=30049&docid=202989 eXPert PDF Reader lets you view and print PDF documents on Windows operating systems. The reader will also allow modification of existing documents. You may modify document outlines, insert rubber stamps and modify any annotation that has been created from eXPert PDF or any other PDF creation software. eXPert PDF Reader is the ideal solution for viewing PDF documents. Fast, reliable, and skinable - gives you all you need for the PDF viewer of your choice. If you need additional PDF editing functionalities you may take a look on what eXPert PDF Editor can offer. Two functions I like the best are bookmarking and full screen mode.

dmstenhouse
dmstenhouse

Open Office can generate PDF's in windows as well, very easy as well.

MoltenJules
MoltenJules

If you want a PDF creator for small documents that is easy to use, why not look at www.pdfonline.com Just find your document (various types supported) upload it, supply your email address and wait for it to be mailed back as a PDF. Normally in less than 1 minute. Works for simple invoices etc.

JB Tucson
JB Tucson

How many of you have seen numerous installations of Acrobat in update deja vu? Or how about installing a search toolbar in IE as part of your updates? My favorite: This document was created with a newer version... Click here to not see this again. And sure enough you get the same warning every time, despite clicking 'Don't show me again'. Just about anybody can do PDF better than Acrobat.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

I see lots of PDF documents on the net, the sad part is they're often used for forms that can be electronically lodged, except it's not possible to enter information into them with a basic computer set up - you need specialised corporate software to do so. They're also useless if you wish to quote anything from them, they do NOT permit you to highlight and copy a sentence or paragraph for use in commentary on the document. I can understand their use in a few situations where you HAVE to absolutely lock down the text, but 99.9999% of the time, that's not required. I've found Rich text Format (.rtf) to be extremely useful and easy to use in any word processing or text manipulation program, add in html if for the web and that's all you need, for most situations.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I like the ability to create a universally accessible output from any application. Plus, printing to PDF is the easiest way for me create record copies of my web-based time sheets and expense reports.

VikingCoder
VikingCoder

This is what I use... although I have found version 3 to be superior to the current available version 4. Version 4 was "dumbed down" (had it's feature set reduced) to give it Vista Compatibility.

brian.mills
brian.mills

My experience with programs that convert documents to PDF has shown me that Adobe seems to be the only way to pick up URLs. I've converted several Word documents that contained links to websites only to find that the links just show up as blue text instead of being an actual link, unless I use Adobe's PDF creation tools. I didn't kow that OpenOffice can export to PDF, though. I'll have to try that tonight and see if it does any better with links than the few other programs I've tried.

cbocciolatt
cbocciolatt

Is there anything better for electronically filling out forms? I have looked into some of the programs mentioned here but they just seem to be used for creating, managing, or reading pdf's. I need to be able to fill out pdf form fields electronically.

jdclyde
jdclyde

is cutePDF. http://www.cutepdf.com/ The free version creates quick and small pdfs. If you need to do more than output a form, their full version is affordable, but I don't do more than the down and dirty pdfs to keep from having to worry about the recipient having the same software that I do. We were using Adobe, but the price has really shot up over the last few years, and is a lot slower.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

advertising people out there convincing people that PDF is the ONLY way to put documents on the net. I'll admit it's good for that less than 1% of times you need a document out on the Internet available to all but in a manner that they can't change it at all - pity this isn't the real truth. The real stupidity is the number of times people use Pretty Dumb Format processing on documents that require electronic processing. I had a few government departments who were surprised when I returned required forms blank as they'd sent me the things as pdf files and I wasn't able to enter the data and email it back. One rang to abuse me and I said I'd be happy to complete it when they posted me the blank form to fill in but I had no working printer and the PDF wasn't open to have data entered so I couldn't fill it in. A few weeks later they changed the system to send out rtf documents. I know many academics who are pissed off because their university is placing all their papers on the Internet as PDF files. These aren't easy to cut and paste into essays or assignments, so the students don't use or reference them, thus cutting down on the author's reputation.

seanferd
seanferd

http://pages.cs.wisc.edu/~ghost/ Check the FAQ and pick your poison. There are several versions of Ghostscript itself, pick one that meets your needs (licensing, mostly). Get the appropriate viewer for your OS and the most current revision of your chosen flavor of Ghostscript that the viewer for your OS supports. (This isn't as complicated as it sounds.) The licensing bit only comes into play for some commercial distribution of files when using the two free versions. There is also a version you could purchase, and a link is provided to it at the above site. More: http://www.lecb.ncifcrf.gov/~toms/postscript.html http://www.rops.org/

david_scott
david_scott

its probably just me but the gui in foxit looks eerily like adobe

seanferd
seanferd

Since I don't know for certain what these guys are offering, I only make these suggestions at the lowest "you could check here" level. www.PDFOnline.com/easyPDF/SDK www.colorpilot.com www.planetpdf.com/forumarchive/121859.asp www.accesspdf.com/ Or try searching VBA PDF with your favorite engine.

sas292
sas292

If you need to create a PDF by using a scanner and you only have a digital camera try using www.scanr.com. A user can send up to 15 pictures via e-mail of a document and it will come back as a 15 page PDF. If the user logs on to a scanr account, the PDF is stored and a text version with OCR is available. PDF files from an account can be faxed. The service is free while it is in beta.

Myhrddin
Myhrddin

windows open office :: In the latest version of oOo v2.3.1, you even have options of setting the image compression levels and security when saving a document as a PDF file as well as a few other options. The toolbar pdf buttons default to the quick, no options, version of the save but, you can easily swap the full choice pdf button in or, go through the File menu to save the file as pdf with your optional choices.

Larry the Security Guy
Larry the Security Guy

It's been my experience that you can generally copy text and images from a PDF. Your reader might not support copying or the author has disabled copying. You can try other readers to see if that's the issue. If the author disabled copying there are ways of getting around it, but I won't describe them out of courtesy to the authors.

wfs1946
wfs1946

With CutePDF Writer, the PDF document that is create, any text in the document can be copied and pasted into another document without any problem. It depends on the application and how you create the PDF file as to whether it is protected or not.

Old Man on the Mountain
Old Man on the Mountain

Beginning with version 3.1, PrimoPDF allows you to append to a PDF. This is a great feature I use frequently.

carbondog
carbondog

When I looked at PDFCreator (I use it on personal machines), it seemed to not be licensable for business use. Are the rest of these options similarly restricted license-wise?

paul.froehle
paul.froehle

in text if they are fully qualified. The url needs http:// at the front. It will not pick up embedded Word URLs with different text and URL.

Lost4now
Lost4now

I needed a cheap way to fill out PDF forms a couple of years ago when I ran across PDFill. I'm not sure if it is the best but I know it is definitely better than Acrobat 8 PRO that I use at work. Not free though, $19.99. I use it to scan documents into PDF, print to PDF, fill forms, merge pages, delete pages, sticky notes, highlight, create forms from scratch with drop down menus, etc. I have been happy with it. Did I mention free upgrades for life.

williamjones
williamjones

...in the current version. Try "save as" for your completed form. Quoting from their site: "Foxit Reader itself is free. The critical add-ons are free while advanced add-ons have a reasonable cost. For example, you can use the following functions for free: * View or print PDF document * Basic PDF form operations i.e. filling out PDF forms and printing them out * Advanced PDF form operations, such as saving filled-out forms and import/export forms, free for personal usage only" There's also a form designer add on if you need to make PDF forms.

rasilon
rasilon

Use it all the time. Works great. Hank Arnold

bladeofudun
bladeofudun

It's always marketing and the fact that they seem to be in bed with Microsoft... and nearly everybody else.

seanferd
seanferd

but I have to assume that the developers of an "alternative" app don't want users to have to learn a new GUI layout. This is one of the reasons why so many Windows users do not want to try Linux. Although some desktops for Linux look and feel quite a lot like Windows, the mere thought that it might be too different puts them off. The big reasons I like Foxit are: fast load, small footprint, no updater, no bloated features, no hidden bundled extras. If I were designing commercial PDFs from the ground up, Adobe might offer me something that others don't. I do not know, but for a reader, Foxit is darned good, and free. Ghostscript is also available, but I haven't used it a lot in Windows (no particular reason), but it seems just fine for me under Linux. Yeah, the GUI similarities just creep me out. :0

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

selling pdf programs as 'fix all' for web documents. I haven't found any standard pdf plug in program that will allow me to copy and paste a selection from any pdf document I found on the web. In one assignment I settled for summarising the content of two papers from senior professors at the same university. Later, they asked why I didn't just copy some relevant sections, and explained the inability to copy and paste from pdf documents. They had no idea this was an issue, they actually put the papers out there fro students to actual use as reference works. Three weeks later, both papers were on the net as standard html documents that could be copied in sections. I know there are a number of corporate and free software programs that allow you to do some manipulation within pdf documents - but you shouldn't need to load extra software to be able to make normal use of anything that's on the Internet. I've gotten so fed up with some companies putting all their paperwork on the net as pdf, that I've taken to emailing application forms back to them with the blank pdf form attached and the details in the email message in the order they appear in the form. Leaving it up to them to complete the form. A few have asked why I didn't fill in the form, and were extremely surprised to be told I couldn't as it didn't allow that, the pdf form does allow that sort of access as it's default setting. All the sales people who promote pdf software that I've seen, have strongly pushed it as the ONLY way to convert any and all documents for placement on the Internet, they promote pdfs as the end all of all web document formats. the reality is that they're only relevant in a small percentage of cases.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

on the Internet that I can cut and paste from when I want to quote from it, let a lone a form available in PDF that'll let me enter the details and send back by email. I don't much like the idea of print and rescan to lodge it.

jrw_simplex
jrw_simplex

I've been using "deskPDF 2.5 Pro" from . The purchase price is reasonable and the program suits my needs just fine for making pdf copies of CAD drawings. I can create multi-page files with it. I've even used it with my CAD batch-print program (Multi-Batch) with good success.

OldER Mycroft
OldER Mycroft

So you don't need to convert to Word or Open Office or whatever, just to have to convert it back again after you edit it. You just edit the PDF. No converting. No hassle.

wfs1946
wfs1946

I work on a service desk and need to attach files all the time and copies of emails for tracking communications. I use CutePDF Writer to make PDF copies of the emails that I attach to the trouble ticket. Great product and free too. A direct quote from the www.cutepdf.com website: FREE for personal and commercial use! No watermarks! No popup Web advertisements! Now supports 64-bit Windows.

seanferd
seanferd

As noted in the main article, Ghostview can also be used to view pdf files and convert ps files to pdf format with ps2pdf. Enjoy.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

industry standards that were developed specifically to allow the hardware and software companies to be able to design one version of software and hardware and it'll run on any platform that uses the full spectrum of the industry standards - sadly, only a few makers of operating systems design their OS to run on the full spectrum of industry standards. Mac and Microsoft are the two biggest violators of these standards. Once the companies give up kowtowing to Microsoft, they'll find their life a lot easier.

seanferd
seanferd

Large software houses love to dictate to you certain requirements so they don't get blamed for, or receive support requests about, possible instability in their software when used in "untested" or "non-supported" environments. Sometimes the software may work perfectly fine with, say, an "alternative" PDF app, but the provider doesn't want to allow the possibility of having to support more than one. Of course, they could just say, "Use whatever you want, but we only support X," rather than requiring one thing in particular. Sometimes I think it is because it is the easiest way for Support to avoid a lot of "stupid user" support requests.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

Vendors lock into Microsoft only versions, and then complain about having to pay big sums to MS to make their product compatible with the latest MS OS. Some are finally getting fed up with this and moving away, but the trend isn't happening fast enough. What is happening is the number of vendors who are refusing to make Vista versions of their business applications, and this is having a kickback on MS. I've seen one company actually refuse to buy their new 100 PCs from their regular supplier (one of the big name prepackaged lots) as they can't supply the systems with XP Pro, which is the only OS that runs their key business software. They ended up buying from a small shop that offered to transfer the old licences over from the old PC's to the new ones, cleaning them as they go. This is a lot more work for them, but it gives the business what they want and is sales they normally wouldn't have had. And despite what MS preach, it is legal down here to transfer the licenced software from one PC to another.

david_scott
david_scott

I also think alot of the reason that windows and ms products are so widely used is that alot of operating software requires it (at least in my experience). For example, our agency management system (AMS 360) is only supported on windows and needs .net and also integrates with office. It is too bad that vendors won't support much more but i guess they don't want the extra support cost of supporting their software on two different operating systems. Also in regards to the foxit reader--I think some of the insurance company websites that we use say that adobe reader is required, but who knows foxit will probably work just as well if not better.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

don't want me to reference them or tell people about them. Thus, they lose the wider acknowledgment and notification of usefulness they want - a pdf for a document to be used as a reference work is a discouragement, not an encouragement.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

The easiest way I've found is to mark the area, copy it into the clipboard, open your image viewer, paste in the clipboard, save as GIF or TIFF, run the image through an OCR, save the output to text or RTF, open your word proc and go to town. Just talking about it makes me thirsty. I think I'll have a carbonated beverage with lunch... Cheers! :D

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

There, I did mention that there were some circumstances where you may need to lock the document down fully and pdf is appropriate for that. I also said that the majority of pdf documents you see on the web do NOT need to be pdf. One place I worked, we sent lots of research reports off to various organisations - each one was a pdf and a rtf file, so they had an unchangeable copy of the report as well as one they could copy bits from for summaries. Once the report was accepted and authorised, the final version was then made available on the Internet as a html or rtf document, so other researchers and students could easily use them as reference sources - something not possible with a pdf.

hineses@hotmail.com
hineses@hotmail.com

I use PDFs to send quotes and/or engineering documents instead of sending MS Word documents which can be changed, which have embedded metadata that I don't necessary want others to see, and when I want more control over (i.e., restrict) the content of the document.

outlaw_164
outlaw_164

Pro version is ok for adding comments, highlighting, etc for colleagues to work with. But doesn't permit replacing text per se. Infix2 does the replacing chores well.

jdclyde
jdclyde

I haven't tried it because I haven't needed anything beyond the basics, but it is affordably priced.

jluttermann
jluttermann

Have used it for years and have never been let down by CutePDF. As long as you want a basic PDF copy of your document and do not need to have active hyperlinks etc in the PDF the free version will do you good!

outlaw_164
outlaw_164

CutePDF thru printer dialog is about as simple as it gets. As a webmaster for several sites, I gather various documents from my sources and upload in PDF for all platform users. Infix2 is the least expensive PDF editor I've found. Has its quirks, but I've gotten used to them.