There can be little doubt that PDF (Portable Document Format) is a universally accepted form of document delivery. PDF readers are freely available, with Adobe Reader being the most obvious example. Of course it's all very well to be able to receive information this way, but most of us will want to send as well. Typically, PDF creation software is not free although some applications, such as OpenOffice do provide PDF export options.
Most people find themselves noticing Adobe Reader already on their desktop and assume the logical answer is to purchase Acrobat Professional. Acrobat is a great product and it caters to everyone right up to professional publishers. The trouble is, most of us don't need anything quite that exotic or the associated price tag. One suitable alternative to Acrobat Professional is Nitro PDF.
Developed by Arts PDF, Nitro PDF professional creates documents with a wide range of advanced features, which should satisfy the needs of most business users.
Nitro PDF also comes with a PDF printer driver which allows your existing applications to export directly to PDF using a standard call to print. Users of Microsoft Office can take advantage of even closer integration as Nitro PDF installs export buttons in Word, Excel and Powerpoint. Nitro PDF can directly read a variety of image and document formats and can also export to MS Word format.
Security is well catered for with password permission options and support for encryption (DES or AES algorithms at various bit strengths) and security certificates. Permissions can be set to restrict such things as editing, printing and print quality.
How We Tested
After downloading the 20MB set-up program we were able to complete the installation in a few minutes without any concerns. As with Adobe Acrobat, Nitro PDF sets itself up as a standalone program with a desktop icon, but also sets up a "printer driver" that allows your existing applications to send documents to Nitro PDF for conversion to PDF and further processing if desired.
How quickly can a new user start producing useful output? Naturally, familiarity with other document creation tools will give the user a big head-start. The manual is well laid out and provides basic instructions for all features although it does assume some existing familiarity with document creation. Generally, the operation of the software is intuitive and makes use of standard document editing procedures.
Microsoft, being the big boy on the block, is most strongly supported by Nitro PDF, but other software can still access much of Nitro PDF's power. We were able to copy and paste data to Nitro PDF directly from Microsoft Word, Mozilla Firefox and OpenOffice Writer. In the case of OO Writer, images within a table were lost in transfer. Nitro PDF installs Export, E-mail and Settings buttons and menus in MS Office applications for instant action, but don't try this if you already have Adobe Acrobat installed because Adobe blocks the Nitro PDF components.
Nitro PDF claims to be able to export MS Word documents. The information is transferred, yes, but the formatting was a disaster. Individual lines of text are placed in column-spanning text boxes; images were often misplaced and font faces and styles were often disregarded. The result was totally impractical and in the end it would be easier to rebuild the document from scratch. (Although nothing else we've seen can export very effectively from PDF either). Needless to say, MS Word must be present on your computer to use this feature.
The printer driver was very effective. Not only was it effective with Microsoft Office products, we were able to produce accurate PDFs from OpenOffice's word-processing and spreadsheet applications. Nitro PDF can read directly from a variety of graphics formats, including Photoshop, as well as HTML (although backgrounds were ignored), text, RTF and Microsoft Office files.
Nitro PDF is compatible with Windows 2000 and XP (not 64-bit version) and integrates with MS Office 2000 through to 2007.
Users can specify the output quality of images; the default level is 50 percent of the original quality. We compared the original image with PDF samples converted at 50 percent, 75 percent and 100 percent quality. The conversions were achieved by "printing" from OpenOffice Writer to Nitro PDF's print driver interface. Speckling is quite apparent at 50 percent, but acceptable for many applications. 75 percent is very good and the lossless conversion is indistinguishable from the original. Line work is smooth on all images when printed to paper and we had no complaints about the output quality.
The export process also gives the user the opportunity to control font embedding -- whole or partial as desired. (Your readers may not have access to the same exotic fonts that you do, so it's important to embed them in PDF files to ensure everyone experiences the same look-and-feel when reading.)
We feel that anyone with a reasonable grasp of word-processing would have little trouble gaining fluency with the main features of Nitro PDF. File conversion is quick and easy and PDF files can be edited or begun from scratch if required. The help files are supplemented by an online knowledgebase; also a 14 day e-mail-support service is provided with the option of purchasing ongoing incident support.
A single-user licence for Nitro PDF is priced at US$99 as a download from Arts PFD's Web site (although, curiously, AU$199.95 if purchased from a reseller in Australia) and is also available in an Express version for US$49 (this has fewer bells and whistles, but still converts and creates new PDF files).
We were quite impressed with Nitro PDF Professional. The vast majority of people with a need to create PDF files will be served more than adequately by this product, and the price gives it a handy head start over Adobe Acrobat.
|Good compatibility with other Windows based software, but other operating systems not supported.|
|Arts PDF needs to confirm or build-in Windows Vista compatibility.|
|Great features at a price that will have the competition screaming.|
|Good online support and knowledgebase, but no phone support. The well-designed 300 page user manual should restrict the need for support requests.|