Saturday, April 18, 2009

Open source PDF utilities for Windows

Adobe's PDF format is the de-facto standard for printable read only document exchange. Adobe has added some new features to the format recently. As a result, Acrobat and Acrobat Reader, both currently at version 9, have become somewhat bloated as it has picked up these features.

That's not to say these features have no merit. My employer uses the electronic signature and form features of Acrobat for their ISO Quality Management process. And while the main feature of Acrobat is the ability to "print" any document to a PDF file, You can certainly do a lot of manipulation of acrobat files such as marging and adding form fields.

However, outside of work, I just need to be able to view PDFs and "print" documents to PDF format. I'd also like to avoid the bloat of Acrobat Reader 9. I do so via two open source utilities.

The first utility is Sumtra PDF Reader. This is an open source windows app that makes use of several open source libraries to view and print PDFs. Its very simple and light weight. It just works.

The second is PDFCreator. This is a PDF print driver. It allows you to save any document you can print to a PDF or email the PDF directly. Their is also a network feature I have not experimented with. I'm not sure the benefit of a network PDF generator. Perhaps its intended for rendering large documents. PDFCreator also exposes a COM interface for making PDFs programatically. I have not experimented with this, but it apparently comes with samples.

My only grip with PDFCreator is that it attempts to install a toolbar on Internet Explorer and FireFox. Its pretty explicit about letting you know you want to do this, and Acrobat Distiller 6.0 does the same thing. I can only assume Acrobat 9 Standard and Pro do the same.

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