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The PDF Standard

The PDF Guide: File Size And Creation Time Tested
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The vector-based and scalable Portable Document Format was first published by Adobe Systems in 1993, and it turned into an open standard through ISO 320001:2008 only two years ago (PDF 1.7). It is designed to be readable and printable in a platform-independent way, meaning that the hardware, operating system, and application software used to create the document must be irrelevant. It has also been a standard format for professional printing (PDF/X).

As you can imagine, this is particularly helpful for eliminating issues that arise because of missing fonts, misplaced page breaks, or file format difficulties, such as the incompatibilities between Word 2003 (.doc) and Word 2007 (.docx). In addition, the PDF format not only embeds all document content, but it also adds control elements to enable a clickable table of contents, preview thumbnails, or in-document forms. Finally, a PDF is protected, so the original content cannot be manipulated easily. PDF documents can be password-protected, and it is possible to prevent printing.

Viewing and printing a PDF requires the Adobe Acrobat Reader (click here for download), available for all popular operating systems and in 35 different languages. You may also use alternatives, such as Foxit, Ghostscript, or Okular.

There is no real size limit for PDF documents, not even with hundreds of thousands of pages in one file. Popular page formats include Letter and A4, but ever since Acrobat 7, it has also been possible to create pages in huge dimensions. Each and every element within a PDF document is stored as an object, which means that PDF documents with images, encoding, font information, comments, and form fields may easily hold thousands of objects.

PDF is based on three elements: a graphics model that is very similar to PostScript, a font management system to embed required fonts into the PDF, and structured storage to manage all objects, as well as compression.

The creation of a PDF document is either triggered through application integration (the PDF tool takes over from your source application, such as MS Office) or PDFs are converted through printing the document. The PDF creation tool installs a printer driver that allows one to make the desired settings and to save the PDF to your target location.

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  • 24 Hide
    mitch074 , August 25, 2010 6:35 AM
    It's strange that OO.o is only mentioned in passing, considering that:
    - it includes a sh*tload of settings: resample images, adhere to PDF/A standard, image compression quality...
    - it allows you to REALLY create a PDF: collapsible menus, page previews, FORMS, encryption and password protection for opening, modifying, printing...
    - using Sun/Oracle's own extension, it can also import a PDF for edition. It's now an extension because it is updated more often than OO.o itself.

    Add OO.o to the test, please - at least it supports PDF natively, while MS Office requires an add-on.
  • 14 Hide
    sharpless78 , August 25, 2010 7:38 AM
    I agree with mitch074, why no OOo?
  • 10 Hide
    Tomtompiper , August 25, 2010 8:22 AM
    I have used OO.o for years to edit and create PDF's so why is it not tested? This is like testing Browsers and omitting Firefox.
Other Comments
  • 24 Hide
    mitch074 , August 25, 2010 6:35 AM
    It's strange that OO.o is only mentioned in passing, considering that:
    - it includes a sh*tload of settings: resample images, adhere to PDF/A standard, image compression quality...
    - it allows you to REALLY create a PDF: collapsible menus, page previews, FORMS, encryption and password protection for opening, modifying, printing...
    - using Sun/Oracle's own extension, it can also import a PDF for edition. It's now an extension because it is updated more often than OO.o itself.

    Add OO.o to the test, please - at least it supports PDF natively, while MS Office requires an add-on.
  • 14 Hide
    sharpless78 , August 25, 2010 7:38 AM
    I agree with mitch074, why no OOo?
  • 10 Hide
    Tomtompiper , August 25, 2010 8:22 AM
    I have used OO.o for years to edit and create PDF's so why is it not tested? This is like testing Browsers and omitting Firefox.
  • 6 Hide
    Anonymous , August 25, 2010 8:25 AM
    How about a comparison of pdf readers? There's quite a few of them
  • 3 Hide
    Anonymous , August 25, 2010 9:38 AM
    I use CutePDF and PDFill. Both are free and work great to produce pdf files.
  • 6 Hide
    Anonymous , August 25, 2010 9:50 AM
    Why no NitroPDF professional not free but at $99 cheaper than Adobe and significantly better than Foxit.
  • 5 Hide
    Tomtompiper , August 25, 2010 10:00 AM
    It seems that this article missed the mark when it comes to inclusiveness. My suggestion is a comprehensive rewrite and while you are at it try testing the cross platform solutions on a speed optimized Linux Distro like PCLinuxOS to see if there is a difference to Win 7.
  • 0 Hide
    DSpider , August 25, 2010 11:37 AM
    True. It's Tom's Hardware not software. Let other sites deal with such trivial stuff.

    Too bad you didn't consider OpenOffice and NitroPDF. Both vey good alernatives.

    Also there's a less known format called DjVu that's even better than PDF: http://djvu.org
  • 1 Hide
    howardp6 , August 25, 2010 12:19 PM
    In creating PDF files, size is very important, since email systems limit the size of incoming e-mails.
  • 0 Hide
    randomizer , August 25, 2010 12:54 PM
    Quote:
    How about a comparison of pdf readers? There's quite a few of them

    They all do the exact same thing too.
  • 4 Hide
    awaken688 , August 25, 2010 12:58 PM
    Why only Powerpoint? No word documents? The most common PDF I see is a Word file turned to PDF. Add OpenOffice as well. While I like the idea, this was pretty weak for an article. This is like a Browser test that leaves out Chrome and Opera and then only tests static HTML. You just need more data to be a test that has value.
  • 0 Hide
    marcusmurphy , August 25, 2010 2:06 PM
    PDF-XChange Pro would be the top on my list... followed by NitroPDF then Nuance PDF Converter Pro. None of these are tested???
  • -1 Hide
    snotling , August 25, 2010 2:36 PM
    marcusmurphyPDF-XChange Pro would be the top on my list... followed by NitroPDF then Nuance PDF Converter Pro. None of these are tested???

    There are a lot of 3rd tier PDF makers using open source code, testing all of them would be quite redundant, at some point a line must be drawn on how many have to be included in a comparative test.

    still OOO should have been part of it IMO but the original file would have been tempered by not using PPT natively.
  • 1 Hide
    marcusmurphy , August 25, 2010 2:51 PM
    snotlingThere are a lot of 3rd tier PDF makers using open source code, testing all of them would be quite redundant, at some point a line must be drawn on how many have to be included in a comparative test. still OOO should have been part of it IMO but the original file would have been tempered by not using PPT natively.


    Sorry but none of those are open source and I just listed the top 3 (aside from FoxIt) alternative Adobe PDF software available. Before this review I had never heard of FreePDF or PDFCreator. Oh and the latter of the 3 also converts PDFs back to any office document type you want. So no it really wouldn't be that redundant...
  • 4 Hide
    70camaross396 , August 25, 2010 3:40 PM
    I would have liked to have seen a couple more software packages tested. in particular OO.O and PDFxchange and PDFCreator
  • 2 Hide
    hixbot , August 25, 2010 3:45 PM
    Stick to hardware. Software reviews aren't this site's strong suit. You need to include more open source tools.

    The preamble about PDF is decent. But there are so many amazing PDF tools out there, and you pretty much only introduced two.
  • -9 Hide
    truerock , August 25, 2010 4:05 PM
    I can't think of any reason I would ever want to create a PDF file. The only time I run into that useless document format is when I need to sign a document from a lawyer, stock broker, real estate agent or the government. Which brings up the other most useless piece of crap technology: fax.

    I use PDF Creator to sign PDF documents. I use the Microsoft Windows fax utility to fax it back to whatever retard wants a signed fax so they can do something.

    If the US wanted to improve the efficiency of this country significantly, they would outlaw PDF and Fax.
  • 0 Hide
    Supertrek32 , August 25, 2010 4:09 PM
    bonesnopHow about a comparison of pdf readers? There's quite a few of them

    I'd definitely like to see this as well. I avoid Adobe Reader like the plague because of all the security issues I hear about it. Currently using FoxIt, but it'd be interesting to see what reader has the best performance.
  • -4 Hide
    truerock , August 25, 2010 4:19 PM
    Oh - by the way, like anybody cares...
    My wife and I spent 2 hours signing a 2 inch thick stack of documents to close the last property I financed.

    Another one...
    My son is starting a small business. A big part of his life is now stamping PDFs with his (or my) signature and faxing them back to someone. What a giant waste of time.
  • 7 Hide
    Killua , August 25, 2010 5:00 PM
    It seems clear to me that Toms Hardware doesn't have complicated use of PDF in their workplace. I'm only an intern at my company and I have to deal with 22" x 34" sized engineering drawings and these tests don't even come close to what I require at my work. I also find it strange that the first page talks about PDF being cross-platform yet everything is done in Windows.

    This article is very weak compared to their hardware articles.
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