Friday, December 02, 2005

PDF Generation: Adobe vs. Jaws

Adobe PDF file format is currently the de-facto standard for viewing documents, but as far as creation of documents is concerned, it is the MS Office DOC format which tops the charts. There are other formats like the FrameMaker FM format, plain HTML, CHM, but none of these are comparable anywhere to PDF/DOC formats.

But since PDF file format is not optimized for creating and editing documents, the standard approach is use MS Office to create a DOC file and then convert it into PDF format using Adobe Acrobat suite. Well, that's a pretty costly affair considering the staggering costs of Office and Acrobat (currently each costs around $450 for the PRO version).

Not now! Things are changing pretty fast and here is a tool from Jaws Systems called "Jaws PDF Creator" which can convert almost any document into PDF and has a hell lot of features similar to those provided by the Acrobat suite. And it saves you quite a lot of bucks ($84 for a single PRO version).

Recently I evaluated the demo versions of both Adobe Acrobat 7.0 and Jaws PDF Creator 4.0. And believe me, as far as the creation of PDF files is concerned Jaws PDF has beaten Acrobat. First of all, the time and space requirement for Jaws PDF is much less than that of Acrobat (however you have to admit that Acrobat has PDF editing also and this takes a lot of disk space in form of Acrobat plugins). The macros for MS Office execute much faster than the ones provided by Acrobat and the PDF generation is very quick. Moreover the UI does not hang while creating PDF. The memory requirement is also almost one-third compared to Acrobat Distiller and PDF Maker.

But the most impressive feature was the generation of bookmarks and links in PDF. Jaws PDF Creator converts all Word headings into bookmarks (the number of levels is configurable) and Table of Contents /Figures/Tables and cross-references/hyperlinks are converted into PDF links. PDF Maker is also supposed to do the same, and in fact it used to do this in version 5.0 but with introduction of version 6.0 and 7.0 they seem to have developed some bugs in PDF Maker and are yet not able to figure it out. PDF Maker sometimes does not create any links at all, especially in case of large DOC files with lot of cross-references. Also the text in line drawings in DOC file is sometimes invisible in the PDF file.

One remark goes in favor of Acrobat and it is the size of the PDF file generated. Acrobat Distiller generates much compact PDFs by compressing the XRef table in PDF. Perhaps the Jaws PDF Creator also compresses the XRef table but not as much as the Distiller does. The UI of Acrobat tools is much better (they have the cool XP look with sleek icons) and it looks pretty impressive. But somehow the functionality is not as good as the UI. I find it very ironic that Acrobat, being developed by the creators of PDF file format, is not able to generate PDF flawlessly. Moreover it looks like Adobe has not taken this issue seriously and left the customers screaming.

The problem of Acrobat lies however not in PDF generation, but in PS generation. The way any file is converted into PDF is by printing the file using a PostScript printer and generating a PS file. This PS file is then converted into PDF by Distiller. The PS file generated by Adobe PS Printer is faulty and that's why the PDF is also faulty. The Acrobat Distiller is much better tool compared to the Jaws PS to PDF generator.

Apart from PDF creation, I guess the Acrobat is flawless. The PDF editing features available in Acrobat are not to be found in any other PDF toolkit. With version 7.0 the PDF commenting is also enabled in Adobe Reader, but to enable this feature in a PDF file, you need the Acrobat suite. Also they have introduced Form Designer to create PDF forms and it works nice. The document review features are greatly enhanced in Acrobat and it looks like they are trying to beat MS DOC format which is common for document review.

I haven't evaluated the Jaws PDF Editor and so I cannot comment on the editing features provided by Jaws, but from the PDF Creator experience, I guess it will be worth the cost. Perhaps I will evaluate the PDF Editor also sometime in future.

Overall, I will have to say the Jaws guys have done a pretty good job of PDF creation and Jaws PDF provides a very cost effective menthod of PDF creation. And Adobe needs to improve its bloatware Acrobat in terms of speed and accuracy and if possible reduce the memory requirements. Luckily I found out the best of both worlds. We have a Distiller server in our organization to generate PDF files from PS files. I use the Jaws PDF Creator demo to create intermediate PS files (the PS file is flawless and the demo version just adds junk watermarks to the final PDF) and then use the Distiller to create PDF.

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