PDF Converter

January 20th, 2004 Software, Tech, The West Australian

According to PDF Converter’s Australian distributor, retyping documents provided in PDF format can cost your organization up to $200 per document. To say nothing of the time involved, that makes PDF Converter a pretty serious productivity tool.

If you download lots of PDF files (or receive them by email) but don’t want to sift through reams of graphics and fancy layout or waste paper printing them, it’s going to be a similar godsend to you.

That’s the theory behind it, anyway. The practise is that publisher Scansoft have done the best they can with PDF converter, but because of the structure inherent in PDF files themselves, it’s by no means a one-size-fits-all solution.

It works in a number of ways. You can right-click on a PDF file you’ve received or downloaded and select the ‘Open in Word’ option, open one directly through Microsoft Word, or even right click on the hyperlink to a PDF right in your web browser, where you’ll again see the ‘Open in Word’ option.

Of the three methods, converting through the Open dialogue box in Microsoft Word was the most failsafe and certainly the fastest. Right clicking on a file also worked fine but took longer, while right clicking on a web link was the least robust method — strange things seemed to happen as PDF Converter took control of the accessing, downloading and opening. If you have Microsoft Outlook, you also get a button in every email that contains a PDF attachment — one click and Word opens and starts the conversion, and pretty reliably.

But after it had processed a PDF, was the result worth the money?

When the original PDF contained straight, plain text, PDF Converter produced Word files to within 99% accuracy. If you work with academic texts or a lot of legal or judicial volumes over the web it’ll be the best hundred bucks you’ve spent in ages.

Even text in simple columns was reproduced pretty faithfully, although it didn’t do a very good job with tab spaces; testing the program on a document full of physics equations rendered them an incoherent mess of strange symbols all over the place.

It also doesn’t like PDFs prepared for press from a page layout program. Attempting to work on the downloaded front pages of some major newspapers, it gave a vague error message about not being to extract the text.

However, that’s the nature of a PDF, and even Acrobat Professional — the tool Adobe created to read and change PDF files — isn’t 100% failsafe when it performs an automated process on a complicated layout.

Some limitations are expected but more than forgivable — like not being able to extract text from encrypted PDF files. Others — like not being able to produce Word files bigger than A4 (attempting to do so produced an error message) — just seem like poor planning on the part of the developer.

It’s claimed to work in over 100 languages — a very clever marketing trick until you realise the majority of languages around the world use the same Roman-based alphabet as English. All it has to do after all is tell Microsoft Word which character to put next.

So if you need PDF Converter to recreate a PDF 100%, you’re going to be disappointed — but that kind of grunt costs money, and you’ll be better off buying Acrobat Professional or InDesign for seven or ten times the price.

But if you need a quick fix, one-click tool to give you editable text from a vanilla-flavoured PDF with no bells and whistles, it’ll cost you the same as paying a professional typist for three hours, and that $200 Scansoft reckon you spend retyping a document is better off in your pocket.


System Requirements:
Microsoft Word 97, 2000, XP or 2003-11-23. Microsoft Windows 98SE, 2000, Me, XP or NT

$99 RRP

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