Saturday, March 22, 2008


The humble PDF file is one of the unsung heroes of the technology world. As a cross-platform, cross-program standard, it provides a dummy-proof way of sharing documents. The name behind the acronym--Portable Document Format--shows why the PDF is a success: with nothing more than one (free) program--Adobe Reader--you can read PDFs and forward them on without worrying about compatibility or file size issues.

There are, however, a few frustrations in working with Adobe Reader. You can't edit text or do much else with an existing PDF other than view it (hence the name "Reader"). Also, when you copy text from a PDF and place it into a text editor, you often end up with random spaces in the middle of words. It's still easier to copy than it is to retype, but it's annoying nonetheless.

These small problems aside, I still rely on PDFs just about every day. As a result, I've found some tools on the web that help with some of the problems above, and that make PDFs even more useful. Here are a few worth checking out:

  • Free PDF to Word Doc Converter: requires a download, but gives you cleaner text from PDFs than you'd get from a copy and paste. It also preserves graphics from your PDF documents, allowing your skip the "print screen" step.
  • htm2pdf: As its name suggests, this site lets you convert web pages to PDFs right from your browser--no software needed. All you do is copy a website address or HTML code into a dialog box on the site, and then download your PDF. The whole thing takes about three seconds.
  • PDF Hammer: Need just one page of a PDF file, or need to combine PDF files? Use PDF Hammer's intuitive online interface, which gives you a preview of your edits as you work.
  • PDF Online: This may be the most useful tool of them all, mainly because of its simplicity. PDF Online lets you convert Word, Excel, PowerPoint and other files into PDFs--for free. Just upload your file, enter your e-mail address, and a PDF is sent to you.
  • PDF Split and Merge: performs some of the same functions as PDF Hammer, but requires a software download
One disclaimer: I work in Microsoft Vista, and I use both Firefox and Internet Explorer. These tools work pretty well for me, but they may not work as well with other operating systems or browsers.

If anyone has any additional PDF tips and tricks, post them in the comments.


mswanson said...

I use PrimoPDF which can be found at It basically installs a PDF converter as a printer on your computer and you can output anything you can print as a PDF. It doesn't create powerful and feature filled PDF's, but if you want a simple PDF of a document to share on the web, it's great.

Erik Deckers said...

Similar to Matt Swanson, I use CutePDF, which does the same thing as PrimoPDF. It's great for doing things like mail merge to files which can be later sent to an off-site print house.