Some years ago, Adobe invented "Portable Document Format," or PDF, files. That format has since become the most popular method of representing documents in a manner that is independent of the original application software, hardware, and operating system used to create those documents.
A PDF file can contain any combination of text, graphics, and images in a device-independent and resolution-independent format. These documents can be one page or thousands of pages, very simple or extremely complex with a rich use of fonts, graphics, color, and images.
PDF files can be created on Windows, Macintosh, Linux, UNIX or other operating systems. Even better, they can also be viewed and printed on all those operating systems as well. PDF format is an excellent method of publishing files that can be read by anyone, regardless of the computer hardware or software used.
The problem with creating PDF files has been the expense of the software. For years, the only method of creating PDF files was to purchase software from Adobe for $250 or more. In the past two years, however, several new options have appeared. Anyone using Macintosh OS X will find the capability to create PDF files is already built into the operating system. Those using Windows or Linux operating systems can now find software from other vendors that will create PDF files, some of that software is low cost or even free.
This week I found a new free solution that is even simpler to use than the ones I have tried before. One reason it is so simple is that there is no software to install. The same service will also create HTML (HyperText Markup Language) files that are used to display information on web servers.
PDF Online is a free service that creates PDF and HTML documents on a remote web server. To use this service, you simply upload a document in any of several popular word processor formats. The server converts the task of creating the new file to a background process that may take a few minutes or even hours to complete, depending upon the server's workload at the moment. Once completed, the results are sent to the user in e-mail.
Quoting from the service's web site:
PDF Online (formerly goBCL / goHTM) provides you with quick and free document conversion into PDF and HTML formats. As a web-based server solution, PDF Online allows you to convert documents automatically, from your PC or your Mac, from your home or your office…from anywhere in the world!
PDF Online lets you submit documents from your web browser. PDF Online then processes your document and, within minutes, generates and emails you an accurate PDF or HTML (complete with JPEG files) representation of your document. Although the service can process files of any size, we have imposed a maximum upload file size of 2MB.
When converting to HTML, PDF Online offers many advantages over the HTML export filters that come with most document authoring tools.
PDF Online handles a variety of source document formats:
- PDF (Portable Document Format),
- RTF (Rich Text Format),
- TXT (Simple Text Format),
- DOC (Microsoft Word® Format)
- XLS (Microsoft Excel® Format)
I noticed that PDF Online also handles images in all the most popular formats: BMP, JPG, GIF, PNG, TIFF, WMF and more. It also can handle PowerPoint files, treating them as an image.
I experimented a bit with the service, uploading a number of DOC and RTF files, all created with OpenOffice.org on my Linux system. The files could have been created with almost any popular word processor on any operating system, such as Word or WordPerfect on Windows. Everything seemed to work as advertised.
I tried uploading both .RTF and .DOC versions of the same document, converting both and then comparing the two side by side. The two results often had subtle differences but nothing that I would call significant.
I even converted some PDF documents to HTML, using one of the web site's pother options. The formatting changed a bit but, again, the differences were minor. The documents received from PDF Online can be stored locally, used on web sites or sent to others via e-mail.
I was also interested in converting HTML pages to PDF, something that I would like to do by using my web site's pages as input, creating PDF documents that can be printed and used for handouts at genealogy conventions. In short, I did make it work but the process was not as quick or easy as the other conversions made by this site. I had to first display each web page I wished to convert in Internet Explorer. That is not my favorite web browser and I do not use it much. Also, Internet Explorer is not available for all operating systems so that limits the number of people who can use this option. Next, I had to save the file in Web Archived Fire format, an .MHT file. That option is built into Internet Explorer's menus. Then I could upload the .MHT file to PDF Online. It worked, but I probably won't use it again.
PDF Online is owned by BCL Technologies, a company that sells a number of document handling programs. The company uses PDF Online as an advertising mechanism, showing the company's expertise at manipulating PDF and other file formats. The web site and the e-mail messages received with the PDF output files include some advertising but I did not find the ads intrusive at all.
All in all, this is an excellent service. Of course, the price of "free" is also very good. You can use it from home, from your laptop when traveling, form a friend's computer or from an Internet café anywhere in the world. There is no need to install any software.
If you would like to convert some files to PDF or to HTML format, I'd suggest that you go to http://www.gohtm.com.