ScanSoft PDF Converter

  • Editors' rating
    7.8 Very good


  • Nothing else does this job
  • easy to use.


  • Requires Microsoft Word.

PDF (Portable Document Format) is a very widely used format for sharing largely text-based material. There are many reasons for its popularity, not the least being that reading PDF files requires nothing more than a freely distributed application. Also, the format allows documents with complex, graphics rich layouts -- such as those found in magazines, financial reports or product data sheets -- to be easily shared. This is fine if the shared materials are intended only for reading, but what happens if you need to access some of the text in a PDF file -- to amend, or to quote in your own document for example? Until ScanSoft’s PDF Converter, your options were limited to creating (static) graphics of the text portions required, or copy-typing.

PDF Converter cleverly turns the uneditable text that comes in PDF files into documents that can be altered and dissected in Microsoft Word.

There are several ways to use PDF Converter. From Windows Explorer, a right click on any PDF file offers the option to ‘Open PDF in Word’. Make this selection and the converter begins to work, opening Microsoft Word with the results ready for editing. This method also functions through Internet Explorer to convert PDFs direct from the Web, and in Outlook to convert PDFs that arrive as email attachments. You can also use it directly within Microsoft Word; in this case, PDFs are automatically converted on opening. The software is fully Office System 2003 compatible, and also works with earlier versions of Word back to Word 97.

We tested the program with PDFs. The first, a Government report of 41 pages with a basic layout and no graphics, took 2 minutes and 20 seconds to convert. The second, a 24-page magazine with coloured background to some of its columns and plenty of graphics, took precisely the same amount of time to convert. The third was the first page of an issue of ZDNet Week, a 352KB PDF file that converted in just 8 seconds. The two magazine conversions had their column settings retained, along with correctly positioned graphics, accurate text colours, and heading styles and sizes. In all cases text fonts were resolved as Times New Roman. Text conversion accuracy was very impressive. Our government report comprised 14,500 words, and we did not find a single spelling error in the conversion.

Once a document is opened into Word, you can do whatever you would normally do with text -- editing, cutting and pasting, saving the lot or just specific chunks, and so on.

Software installation was straightforward, although you need a live Internet connection to activate the program. You can only launch PDF Converter five times without activation, and the documentation is somewhat coy about how often you can install and activate, saying only that you will be allowed to reinstall the program ‘a reasonable number of times without having re-activation problems’.

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So far so good, but note that PDF Converter is a plug-in, not a standalone application. The plus side to this is that it’s extremely easy to use and does not require its own application interface. The minus side is that it makes its conversions only to Microsoft Word. If you don’t have Microsoft Word, you can’t take advantage of PDF Converter.

Word does allow for the retention of a lot of document formatting features, but there are plenty of other word processing applications with this functionality. And we can think of a number of scenarios when all that font sizing and colour isn’t needed in the converted document, and where RTF would be an excellent conversion format. Currently you can save to RTF from Word, but obviously you need Word for this task. This umbilical link to Microsoft software detracts from the potential power of what’s a superb tool. Let’s hope that the next version offers more options.