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Adobe Acrobat 5.0
Jaws PDF Creator v3.0
PDF-XChange 2.5
MakePDF for Word 4.0
Adobe Acrobat 5.0
Adobe Systems
Windows 95 OSR2.0/NT 4.0 and higher, Macintosh OS 8.6 and higher

Jaws PDF Creator v3.0
Global Graphics Software
Windows 98/NT 4.0 and higher, Macintosh OS 8.5 through 9.x

PDF-XChange 2.5
Tracker Software Products
Windows

MakePDF for Word 4.0
Document Automation Developers
Windows
PDF-XChange exists only as a printer driver; all of its parameters are set from the driver's setup options through the Control Panel or an application's Print dialog box. Its pared-down aesthetic positions PDF-XChange strictly for onscreen or printer use; you'll find no options for colour management, for instance. You also won't find any Word-specific functions, like bookmarks or hyperlinks—though it will find URLs when you're printing from any text file and create links from them.

For all that it lacks, you will find one function that's absent from Distiller or Jaws PDF Creator: a fairly extensive watermark editor. This is a deceptively powerful feature: as it's built into the driver, you can create watermarks regardless of the program used to create a document.

PDFs were generally even smaller than those generated from Jaws PDF Creator; the 134K test file I mentioned earlier became a 114K PDF, and looked identical to the other two.

PDF-XChange's only significant flaw is a big one: certain documents invariably caused PDF-XChange to crash, rendering the driver unusable until I rebooted.

MakePDF for Word is even sparer than PDF-XChange; it appears as a button on the Word toolbar and as an option in Word's File menu, with only the most general options for embedding fonts and image compression. Security and bookmark functions are a little more fleshed out (and at least you can select other Word styles for bookmarks), and the watermark function is at least as powerful as PDF-XChange's.

MakePDF isn't fancy, but it performs as advertised: generating PDFs is an incredibly quick and easy process. Unfortunately, MakePDF also generated the largest PDFs by far in my tests, at least tripling the size of equivalent Distiller files—one came in at ten times the size! MakePDF also didn't handle embedding Type 1 fonts very well, instead substituting a generic sans serif font with erratic character spacing.


Regardless of your needs, it's very likely that if you need to create PDFs you can find a program that suits you for a fraction of Adobe Acrobat's cost. But it's worth mentioning that the Acrobat package also includes applications for, among other things, editing PDFs, indexing, and extracting graphics. Global Graphics Software also has Jaws PDF Editor 1.0 for under $50, and Tracker Software has the similar PDF-Tools for about the same price, but you'll want to pay close attention to different features if you want to go this route. But if all you need to do is create PDFs from your documents, these applications may give you more options than you thought you had.

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Originally printed in The Computer Paper (May 2003)