Friday, December 22, 2006

Free PDF Creation

PDF logoPDF or Portable Document Format is the recognized industry standard file format for distributing or sharing documents of almost any kind across mixed operating systems. It's actually an open standard format and you'd think it'd be easy to get hold of PDF creation utilities without it costing an arm and leg, but it isn't. Well, actually Apple built PDF output facilities into Mac OS X so it comes as standard on a Macintosh but if you're a Windows or Linux user, then it's not as straightforward.

Microsoft had initially wanted to include PDF creation into Windows Vista but withdrew it after a complaint from Adobe, who make a great deal of money selling Acrobat. Owners of Microsoft Office 2007 can download a Save as PDF add-in but everyone else has to find an alternate solution.

There are quite a few free or low cost utilities that'll install a virtual PDF printer out there but they mostly rely on Postscript to PDF converters like Ghostscript to do the job and these are pretty large installs. Still, if you want an installed solution that lets you output to PDF from any Windows application, then here's a a few free ones to check out…
Online productivity applications like Google Docs & Spreadsheets, Zoho, ThinkFree and gOffice and some of the bigger free office suites like OpenOffice and KOffice come with PDF output capabilites too so I'm not sure why Adobe jumped on Microsoft at this stage of the game.

Linux users might want to check out CUPS-PDF, It installs a GPL virtual printer and, although a bit on the basic side, it provides basic PDF output.

On top of these there are a few free, online PDF convertion services…
  • PDF Online - converts MS Word, MS PowerPoint, MS Publisher, MS Excel, HTML, Text, JPG, GIF, TIFF, BMP, PNG, EMF and WMF files.
  • ExpressPDF - converts MS Word, MS Excel and HTML files.
  • PDF Converter - converts 58 file formats, including MS Office, MS Works, HTML, Lotus 123, JPG, GIF, TIFF, BMP, PNG, EMF, WMF, SVG, Photoshop, AutoCAD and many more. There are some limitations ot the free service like a 30 minute delay between convertions and you can only convert up to seven files a month but it handles many file formats and can even reverse convert from PDF to MS Word or MS Excel.
  • Document Converter eXPress - converts an enormous range of file formats to PDF, PostScript, EPS, BMP, JPEG, TIFF, PCX, PNG and GIF. However, it only converts files up to 1Mb in size.
  • Another useful site that I've mentioned before is Media-Convert, a free service to convert web pages or files up to 50Mb in size. It can handle a vast range of formats and PDF is listed in both input and output so you can even reverse convert from PDF back to lots of other formats.
As you can see from the lists above, if your PDF needs are fairly basic, then there's no need to buy Microsoft Office 2007 or Adobe Acrobat.

PS Adobe Acrobat Reader 8.0 is now available.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, this has helped me out.
Merry Xmas

Kurt Paccio said...

Now that our copiers can produce and send PDF docs we're finding that merging PDFs and/or deleting pages from a pdf file is desirable. Perhaps your readers would benefit from an open source project to split and merge PDFs.