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For standard invoices and reports requiring efficient delivery, PDF-eXPLODE could well be a lifesaver. It can be a bit touchy on occasion, but once your document templates are set up properly it should be plain sailing.

Newsletters and invoices can take a remarkable amount of time to organise. Of course it isn't just creating the documents -- you then have to deliver them. Stuffing hundreds of letters into envelopes is no picnic, plus you have to pay for the postage! One option is to outsource the work to a mailing house, but you could also try e-mail delivery. Of course you don't want to have to send hundreds or even thousands of e-mails individually, and you may be delivering personalised and often confidential material. So what do you do?

PDF-eXPLODE can accept your documents direct from the application used to create them and individually e-mail them in PDF format. Delivery is directed by personalised tags which can be included as easily as the addresses name during a mail merge.

Developed in Australia by a small Sydney-based firm called 3000AD Systems, PDF-eXPLODE allows PDF export and mail-outs from a wide range of Windows applications including word processors and reporting applications. PDF-eXPLODE can be used to streamline mail-outs of newsletters or invoices via the Web using existing e-mail facilities and document creation software. Destination addresses for e-mails could be merged into your existing report templates and automatically delivered by PDF-eXPLODE in one operation.

Security inherent in the PDF format allows messages to be sent securely using encryption to lock files against unwanted viewing, printing and modification. PDFs allow for user and owner passwords, with two levels of encryption available (40bit and 128bit).

Installation was very easy. After downloading the 6MB set-up program we were able to complete the installation in a couple of minutes without any concerns. The program is seen as a printer driver by the operating system which is how it is able to integrate with so many third-party applications. PDF-eXPLODE accepts the data spooling from the Windows print engine and seeks its own tags in the text to direct document distribution.

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Special tags in your document enclose instructions to PDF-eXPLODE; for example, <PDFEXPLODE>someone@address.com.au</PDFEXPLODE> indicates that the page upon which this instruction occurs needs to be sent to the specified e-mail address (the tags could also be used indicate output to a file). The process is quite straightforward, but precision and attention to text case is essential -- remember this is an instruction to a computer program!

One concern we had was the naming of default directories for output. We found that the default path (.../PDFs/) did not match the case of the actual directory (.../PDFS/) and thus we encountered an error message -- which explained nothing to us. We found the solution to the problem by trial and error.

The dialog box shown below, Pre-Process PDF Options, can be dispensed with if the user pre-defines the relevant information. The option button leads the user to settings mainly related to e-mail accounts and options (eg, subject, message and file names).

PDF options, before "exploding"

Since e-mail distribution is a critical feature of this software we attempted to set up a mail out and immediately came across a problem. We use an IMAP e-mail system at our office and PDF-eXPLODE only supports SMTP/POP systems at present. Support for Web mail is planned for later versions of this software.

It is no surprise that this application works with big names like Microsoft Word and Crystal Reports, but how well does it work with an up and coming product like OpenOffice? We tried "exploding" a test document from MS Word, MS Excel and OpenOffice Writer. Output from both word processors was reliable, but we did experience trouble with Excel. Data was placed well beyond the edges of the page when "printed" from Excel via PDF-eXPLODE. Further investigation revealed that OpenOffice Calc was also unable to export successfully. Spreadsheets are not by nature page based documents and so these failures are perhaps not surprising.

Output comparisons
[Click to enlarge]
Comparing output quality

Output Quality
Quality of PDF output was assessed by comparing a test document printed direct from a word processor (OpenOffice Writer) with output printed from Adobe Acrobat Reader after being exported from the word processor via PDF-eXPLODE and finally a document converted to PDF by OpenOffice and then printed via Adobe Acrobat. The test document contains a variety of fonts and text formatting as well as images and a complex table. Text and formatting are well handled by PDF-eXPLODE, but image quality is grossly reduced as can be seen below -- these screen shots show a part of the test document; the difference was accurately reflected in the hardcopy. We did not note any variation in text or formatting in the final hardcopies of these three document versions (text quality in the far-left sample merely illustrates lack of anti-aliasing by OpenOffice and is not indicative of the hardcopy).

Naturally our response was to look for settings controlling PDF output quality. Unlike Adobe Acrobat which allows the user to change more characteristics than one could poke a stick at, PDF-eXPLODE appears to have no way of adjusting image quality or any other document characteristics.

If image quality is not a serious concern then PDF creation with this product can be considered accurate, reliable and easy.

Where picture quality is paramount, the output of PDF-eXPLODE would be unacceptable. However, for standard invoices and reports requiring efficient delivery, this product could be a lifesaver. PDF-eXPLODE can be a bit touchy on occasion, but once your document templates are set up properly it should be plain sailing. We were pleased by the quick responses of 3000AD to our e-mail queries and hope this efficiency extends to all customers. Additionally, FAQs are available online. Costing about the same as 1000 postage stamps, the time and money laid out to get this product into service might well be justified by a single large mail-out.

Price US$349
Vendor 3000AD Systems
Contact support@3000ad.com.au
3.5 out of 5
Compatible with most text/page based Windows applications; does not support IMAP e-mail, Mac OS or Linux.
3 out of 5
Standard communications should operate with new products as purchased.
4 out of 5
Value will depend on volume of e-mails, costs should be recouped rapidly.
3 out of 5
E-mail support and online help.
3.5 out of 5

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