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Why PDFs may not be the worst things ever

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When we think about the most cumbersome file formats I often choose either .wav (entirely uncompressed audio? Why?) or the lowly .pdf. When it boils down to it PDFs are just annoying, and Adobe keeps asking me to install acrobat reader just to read the damn things. Thankfully Nuance invited me to see their Power PDF software, and attempted to help me see why PDFs can be useful.

The problem with PDFs

The first problem I have with PDF files is how unpredictable they are, when I get a PDF file I never know if I'll be able to edit it, if I'll be able copy text from it, or if I'll even be able to navigate the damn thing.

Secondly, the formatting issues I get when transferring the PDF to another file format (this may be a more specific issue due to my working in publishing) turn what should've been a simple two second task into a literal slog of fixing the most meanial tasks.

Lastly navigating PDF software is incredibly frustrating largely due to the navigation menu logic not fitting into how Microsoft Office's menu layout, despite most PDF software being an essential part of an office suite.

What this boils down to is a file format that is annoyingly functional-so-I-have-to-use-it but so unwieldy I avoid it at every opportunity.

Playing with PDFs

Initially when the product demo started I thought to myself "how exciting can a PDF solution really be?" To my surprise the answer was "quite". I should admit at this point that I've never fully explored a PDF solution before (for the previously stated reasons) but have used PDF files extensively.

Basically Nuance's Power PDF program can convert any PDF to what you expect a PDF to do. This means that there is no more randomness to what you can do with a PDF; you can highlight text, copy it, paste it, write in the boxes, and treat it how you would want to treat it.

For example say you get a PDF form that you can't write on, the Power PDF program automatically finds the boxes that you need to write in and allows you to type in them. This saves so much time! No longer do I have to print out a document, write on it, and re-scan the doc, I can simply open the PDF and fill in the boxes.

On the same point, part of the reason I've never fully explored PDF solutions before is because I could be rooting around in the menus for 10 minutes before I found what I was looking for. In Nuance's solution the control options are far more intuitive than Adobe's acrobat or Foxit reader, because they feel like a Microsoft Office product. From the similarities of the button locations to the groupings of functions, I felt instantly at home with the software.

PDFs are actually useful again

Although initially invented as another paper form it felt like PDFs were relegated to status of 'a more attractive publisher file', but they truly are a paper alternative. Once you can freely edit and manipulate a PDF the format becomes 100 times more useful.

I feel embarrassed that it's taken me 22 years to fully appreciate the humble PDF, but now I do and that's PDF-ly fine with me.

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