PDFs. Why do we use PDFs? It's a question I've asked myself time and time again during the following scenarios: my default PDF reader crashing my browser whenever I erroneously click on a link to the blasted extension, an image- or page-packed PDF consuming all of the system resources on my work machine, and while I'm spending extra time to convert a perfectly likable file (.doc) into a new format that's compatible with even more people. At least, I think that's the reason.
But really, though, why do we use PDFs? Perhaps it's the wrong question I should be asking, however. Sad to say, PDFs are here to stay. And I must confess, filling out a PDF form has a certain elegance to it (and built-in digital signature support) that you just can't find in a standard text file or Word document (or OpenOffice.org document).
So instead of asking ourselves how we can rid the world of PDFs, we should really be thinking about the various ways we can improve our interactions with PDF files. That's where this week's Freeware Files comes into play. I'm going to show you five freeware or open-source apps that'll hopefully ease the burden you face when you're trying to manipulate this quirky file format. As well, I'll show you a few more features and tricks you can use to turn your own PDF routines into nothing short of a master class.
First thing's first--you have to have a way to view your PDFs. Now I know we've long been fans of alternative applications like PrimoPDF or Foxit Reader. However, I've recently read about a pretty decent security flaw in the latter that makes me a bit apprehensive to outright recommend Foxit Reader as the best-in-its-class freeware tool. Instead, try checking out Sumatra. This installed (or portable) application is pretty slim in its resource use. It's speedy, efficient, and it works on most major Windows operating systems you throw at it (Sorry, Windows ME and below). What more could you ask for in a PDF reader?
Did you know that you can attach virtually any file type to a PDF document? Yup. Pretend your PDF is an email and the file is the attachment--it works as easily as that. Whenever you send your PDF file to be passed around, viewers will be able to look at and access the file you tossed along for the ride. Nothing too fancy here, but the feature is nevertheless exciting for those looking to pack some additional information alongside what's already contained within the document.
To do this, you usually have to open your PDF, navigate a few menus, select the file, et cetera. PDF Bundle, a tiny little freeware application, takes some of the busywork out of this process by giving you but one screen to select your PDF, select the requisite file, and mash them together.
Like most files on your computer, PDFs come with a number of attributes that are set when you create the document--things like the name, the PDF's version, associated keywords, the producing program, the default page layout and mode... the list goes on. If you want to exert a little more control over the metadata that gets passed along with your PDF documents, you'll want to grab the useful little utility PDF Info. Fire it up and you'll be treated to a wide range of options and checkboxes for fully customizing the information that rides alongside your actual document. Don't forget those keywords!
Maybe PDF files aren't your thing. Or, more importantly, maybe your friends and coworkers would prefer to receive your information in a different format than the ol' PDF for whatever reason. That's fine. Take control of this activity, and more, with the freeware application iPDF Express. This program makes it super-easy to convert the pages of your PDF documents into raw images (or vice versa). As well, you can also batch-process the encryption and decryption of your PDFs and even combine or split PDFs as you see fit. This might not be that big a deal if you rarely have to deal with the monster that is a PDF. However, if you're a frequent sender, iPDF Express just shaved hours off of your day.
Alright, conversion fans. If iPDF Express whetted your whistle at the thought of being able to transform your PDF files into a new format entirely... then gDoc Creator is the waterfall on your lazy river ride. This freeware application not only does a tremendous job of creating PDFs--which anyone can do, really--but it also performs reverse conversions that transform PDF files back into readable Word documents. Finding a program that gets this tricky process decently right is tough, to say the least. Give gDoc Creator a try and you'll finally (and hopefully) be able to rid your hard drive of those super-huge PDF documents in favor of cleaner, simpler, smaller Word files, amongst other fun features!
David Murphy (@ Acererak) is a technology journalist and former Maximum PC editor. He writes weekly columns about the wide world of open-source as well as weekly roundups of awesome, freebie software. Befriend him on Twitter, especially if you have an awesome app or game you're dying to recommend!