Make, edit and search your PDFs

Since the mid 90’s when it was first invented, the PDF file has been both a blessing and a curse to those in the IT industry.  The great thing about PDF’s is that the file size tends to be comparatively small when compared to a .DOC or .PPT file.  Most corporate IT systems also don’t have PDF editing software, so you can be pretty sure your original document stays that way.

This is also the downside to working with PDF’s though, they’re a nightmare to work collaboratively on.  I can personally remember instances in my career where a colleague has printed out a PDF file, annotated it by hand and then passed it back to me for comments.

Of course, the main reason for this was cost.  Adobe famously came up with the PDF file standard, and up until around 2008 they were the only company that made officially supported editing software for PDF files.  Even now, Adobe Acrobat XI will set you back £13.67 PER MONTh, that’s £164 every year…. yowza.

Thankfully, in 2008 Adobe announced that the PDF file format would become an open standard, and it was ratified later that year by the International Organisation for Standardisation under ISO 32000-1.  What that means is that any software publisher can now make software for creating and editing PDF files.

One such product recently brought to my attention is Nuance Power PDF Standard.  Retailing at £79.99 it’s a darn site cheaper than Adobe’s per-month model, you can even get an education edition for £31.99, which is great for university students on a tight budget.

Actually sitting down and using the software is a pretty familiar experience.  Nuance have gone with the familiar Microsoft style “ribbon” interface that’s featured on Microsoft Office since 2007.

As such, it’s pretty easy to work your way around the software, in the short time I’ve had playing around with it I’ve been able to quickly and easily undertake simple tasks like making a PDF searchable, adding annotations and converting a file into a Word document.

The latter is a feature that particularly interests me.  Power PDF does contain some annotation and editing tools, but I’d much rather be able to annotate a document in Microsoft Word than another program – it’s just a platform I’m more familiar with.  Thankfully, Power PDF’s conversion tools work quite well.  With the exception of a few lost graphics and some slight mis-formatting, I was able to quickly and easily convert a poorly written instruction manual in to a Word document.  From there I put in several corrections, and then resaved the file as a PDF to send BACK to the manufacturer (hey, don’t ask me to review your product and then send me a rubbish manual for it, OK?).

Power PDF uses a familiar "Ribbon" interface
Power PDF uses a familiar “Ribbon” interface

It’s worth pointing out that Power PDF also comes with plugins for Word, Excel and PowerPoint, and allows you to save a PDF from any application that can print.  Say you’re looking at an interesting webpage and want to quickly save the content as a PDF for later reading.  All you need to do is select the “print” option from your web browser and then select Nuance PDF from the list of printers.  Rather than anything actually printing out, your new PDF will open in a new window, which is just awesome, frankly.

One feature I also found interesting, not least because I have a new book to review in PDF format, is the “Read Aloud” function which will read back the current page or a whole document using your PC’s speakers.  Some might query whether or not this adds much value to the product, but I’m busy enough that I often want to listen to a technical journal rather than read it, so that I can get on with other things at the same time.  In honesty, the voicing produced is not 100% accurate, and a couple of times I had to go over and read the screen to see what was actually meant by the author, but it’s still a useful feature.  In fact sometimes it tries to be too useful, converting a model number for a PC case into “six hundred Icelandic Krona” doesn’t seem entirely accurate, but bless it for trying!

Security features such as file encryption have also been included in Power PDF Standard.  You can add passwords with 40, 128 or 256 bit encryption, preventing others from accessing the PDF when you don’t want them to.  You can use the same password protection to prevent people from editing your files, even when you want them to be able to look at them.

PDF utilities such as Power PDF Standard are a great alternative to Adobe’s current sales model for Acrobat.  In fact, one license for Power PDF Standard is cheaper than leasing Adobe Acrobat after only 6 months of use.

While it’s true that Adobe Acrobat contains some more advanced features, most home and small business users will find that it meets their criteria perfectly without over stretching the budget.  If you like the look of the product, but feel that it might not quite meet your needs, it’s also worth considering Power PDF Advanced which contains a few more business oriented features, like the ability to disable certain plugins during installation, and batch conversion options.  Advanced retails at £139.99, which is expensive, but still works out cheaper than a years use of Adobe Acrobat.

Would I use this product as a home user?  Probably not.  But as a small business owner I’m definitely tempted.  If you work in an environment that requires you to draft and redraft lots of documents, then it’s pretty much a god send.  You’ll more than likely find yourself using the conversion tools without even thinking about it, which may leave you wondering how you ever got along without it.

PowerPDF Review

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