ScanSoft PDF Converter Professional 3

  • Editors' rating
    7.9 Very good


  • Makes what were once read-only files editable on any computer
  • two ‘assistants’ allow for fast and easy conversion to and from PDFs
  • strong features include watermarking, forms creation and password protection
  • excellent OCR


  • Makes what were once read-only files editable on any computer
  • spreadsheet conversion could be better

PDF (Portable Document Format) has become the accepted standard for sharing documents. It is universally accessible thanks to the free reader distributed by the format’s creator, Adobe, for platforms including Windows, Linux and Mac OS, as well as handhelds and smartphones. It appeals to corporate users because of this OS-agnostic nature and because PDF documents are not easy to alter.

But although reading PDFs is straightforward, creating them in a business environment is costly, requiring specialised software. Document management specialist ScanSoft exploited this gap in the market with PDF Converter, launched late in 2003. The latest product in the range -- version 3 -- adds considerably to concept, supporting not only creation to and conversion from PDF, but also direct editing of PDFs in their native format, and the filling of PDF forms.

Installation & interface
To install Scansoft PDF Converter Professional 3, you have to enter a provided product code and then activate the software. If you can complete the latter step over the Internet, do so, because otherwise you’ll need to enter a very long key generated by the activation Web site -- twice. The software requires 140MB of free hard drive space, and -- activation aside -- the installation process is quick and painless. The product comprises three modules. PDF Converter Assistant and PDF Create! Assistant are quick-access applets that walk you through PDF conversion and creation respectively. The third application, PDF Converter Professional 3, lets you edit PDF files directly.

PDF Converter Assistant and PDF Create! Assistant are both very straightforward programs to use. PDF Create! Assistant allows you to select multiple files, in a variety of formats (including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and image formats), and batch-convert them either to a single PDF or as individual files. PDF Converter Assistant lets you transform PDFs to editable Word, WordPerfect and RTF formats as well as to Excel spreadsheet format. We tested PDF Converter Professional 3 using a PDF containing a mix of text and graphics plus a neatly laid-out table. PDF Converter Assistant transformed this into an impressive-looking Word document. Graphics and text that were combined in the original PDF in a box were also combined in the converted Word document. Colours for text and headings were retained and matched perfectly, while a URL in the original became a clickable URL in the Word document. Font matching was reasonably tight, and the OCR conversion from PDF to editable text was almost faultless: it only missed absolute perfection by failing to capture some footnote characters. Next, we took an Excel spreadsheet with several worksheets and some visual formatting, and converted this into a PDF using PDF Create! Assistant. The formatting left rather a lot to be desired, with sheets wider than A4 in size being run onto a new page rather than squeezed into a single one, making it difficult to read along a row. There was also some reduction of font size, rendering some sheets illegible on-screen. We converted this PDF back into a spreadsheet using PDF Converter Assistant, and not surprisingly we did not end up with anything like the original spreadsheet. For example, worksheets that had been split across A4 pages were treated as separate when converted to Excel format, and quite a lot of worksheet formatting had been lost. Our original spreadsheet had seven worksheets, while the one converted from PDF had 16. One of these 16 is a standard worksheet that ScanSoft calls ‘Overview’, which contains all the data that PDF Converter can’t identify as a spreadsheet. Finally, we took a PDF containing a simple table and some text and converted this to Excel. We got perfect results: the table in the PDF was copied flawlessly to one worksheet, while the rest of the content was sent to the ‘Overview’ worksheet. When PDF conversion works well, it is very impressive, but things can go wrong -- particularly with large spreadsheets. The main application, PDF Converter Professional 3, duplicates the ability to convert to and from PDF, but also delivers more complex functionality. Here you can edit PDF files in situ without needing to convert them first, adding text and moving graphics, for example. You can also create editable PDFs, such as forms, by first creating the form in your word processor, then converting it to PDF and finally creating fields (including logical fields and pick-list-based fields). Small businesses may find that this feature alone is reason enough to buy the software, as it eliminates paper and saves a lot of manual data entry. There are some excellent touches. When moving through a PDF to read it using the ‘hand’ tool, a simple tap on the screen causes the text to scroll, while a dashboard allows you to control scroll speed. Scansoft Converter Professional also places its own toolbars in Excel, PowerPoint and Word, allowing you to create PDFs directly from within these applications, as well as from any print-capable software you may run.

Scansoft Converter Professional 3 offers a strong range of features, and users who wish to tweak their PDFs (for file compression, font embedding, watermarking, digital signing, password protected access and so on) have the tools to do so. Others wanting simple and fast conversion to and from PDF are also catered for via the two ‘Assistants’. Although visually the trio of tools seems a little disjointed, between them they do a good job. PDF Converter Professional 3 is a sophisticated application, and for the price is ideal for smaller businesses that wish to make the most of their PDFs. However, it's worth bearing in mind that for a relatively small outlay the ultimate safe, non-editable document format becomes editable and no longer tamper-free.