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     By Bob and Joy Schwabach
                                                                        

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May 2003, Week 4 -- Look alikes.

   
 

 

   It's easy now to create brochures, newsletters and other documents with fancy layouts and images. There are dozens of programs that can do it on your own computer.

   The problem is sending the documents to someone who doesn't have the same programs. The solution is PDF. PDFs are files created in Adobe's "Portable Document Format." They invented the system. The file looks just like the original, and anyone with a PDF reader can view it and print it. They can also send it to anyone else who has an Acrobat reader. The "reader" can be downloaded for free from Adobe; half a billion copies are already in use.

 

   Considering the enormous popularity of PDFs, we thought it worth spending spent a couple of days working with three Windows programs for creating these files.

 

   The first, and most expensive, was Adobe's own "Acrobat," which costs $249 in version 5 and will go up to $299 in the version 6, scheduled to come out at the end of May.

 

   As you might expect from the company that invented PDF, the program worked perfectly. Of course so did another program we will talk about a little further down and it's free. On the plus side for Adobe Acrobat, however, is the tricks you can't do for free. Acrobat can encrypt files, for example, so they can only be opened and read by someone who has the appropriate code. There are several other features which could be of importance to business or government users but probably not for most people.

 

   Adobe has an online service www.adobe.com that lets you sign up for a free trial that allows you to create five PDF files. For $10 a month or $100 a year you can make unlimited PDF files but this is only available in the U.S. and Canada. We tried the free trial service and got mixed results; the process was slow and the PDF file we got did not match the original.

Power PDF

  "Power PDF 2" is $50 from Xelerate Software www.xelerate.biz. This program recently received rave comments from other reviewers, who pointed out it cost much less than Adobe Acrobat. That it does, but it performed terribly on some documents. We tried converting a brochure to a PDF file but it did not come out like the original. Images copied poorly, some running off into another page, and text was sloppy and difficult to read. On the plus side, it handled Microsoft documents well.

 

   We got our best and quickest results with "PDF Factory," from FinePrint www.fineprint.com. This program is free from the company's web site. Advanced versions, with nearly all of the features found in Adobe Acrobat, sell for $50 to $100. The free version had no trouble making an exact PDF copy of the same brochure which stumped Xelerate's program.

 PDF Factory

   Using the free version was a breeze. PDF Factory installs itself as a printer option in Windows. Click on "print" for any document and one of your choices is PDF Factory. Choose that one and the conversion to PDF takes place immediately. The document can now be emailed and will look the same as the original. The downside with this free program is that "PDF created with FinePrint pdfFactory" will appear in fine print at the bottom of each page. If you don't want this, you have to buy one of the paid versions.

 

A nice little program

Toolfish

   Toolfish is one of the most engaging little programs we've seen in many moons. It's a $16 (free to try) utility that does about a lot of things, some amusing, many useful. Here are some of the highlights:

   On the fun side it can count the number of keystrokes you used for the day or for the task you're doing right now, and the number of inches, feet and miles you moved your mouse. To write this column I struck the keys 5,932 times. That includes editing changes before sending it off; the count without editing changes would have been 5,585. There were no mouse movements, since my word processor, a desktop version of the Atex system used by many newspapers, doesn't use a mouse.

 

   Toolfish also does hot keys. You can make them up yourself or use the presets. Striking control-shift-G, for example, connects you to Google.com so you can search the web. Other key combinations can be set to open or close applications, send email, back up files, etc. Hot key sequences can be attached to a particular web site and call it up directly. They can also be used to trigger a macro -- a block of text, for example. These triggers can be stacked, so that one sets off another and so on.

 

 

   The program can speak out loud when new email has arrived, or tell you when some web site has changed, or just remind you to take a break every hour or so. It can have the computer call your cell phone to notify you of any of these changes or other events. Toolfish will also check the atomic clock at the U.S. Naval observatory and reset you system clock to match.

   Think someone else may be using your computer without your permission. You can secretly log all emails and passwords entered while you're away.

Seems like quite a lot for $16. The price includes free updates forever, says the maker, Seth Robinson, a game designer in Japan. Buy or download a trial at www.toolfish.com.

 

NOTE: Readers can search past columns on our web site: www.oncomp.com. You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at bobschwab@oncomp.com or bobschwab@aol.com.

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