Download a la Mode 5 - Creating PDF Files, Free Storage Space and More

Posted on Friday, December 23, 2005 by Miguel Guhlin
Note Read more in the Download a la Mode series
"You can now do so much via the Web these days--for free," I shared with a family member. "I'm continually amazed at the services that are available online for free." With so many different free services online, we have to consider how we intend to use these services. Often, when we do not ask the right questions, we fail to fully understand how these technologies can transform how we work and live.

This Download a la Mode addresses the following questions:
  1. How can you print to Acrobat Portable Document Format (PDF) or convert existing documents to PDF?
  2. How can I store my bookmarks online with others?
  3. How can I easily share images with others?
  4. How can I store my files online so that they can be accessible from anywhere?
  5. What is an easy tool to use to create tutorials for publication online?
  6. How can I convert Powerpoint slide shows to an easy to view web-based slide show?
  7. How can I create and share a calendar of events via the Web with others?

#1: How can you print to Acrobat Portable Document Format (PDF) or convert existing documents to PDF?
Let's take a moment and imagine what life would be like without PDF files, that standard document format that is viewable across all operating system platforms (e.g. Windows, Macintosh, Linux). The standard document format makes it easy to exchange documents that keep the original formatting they were created with--including graphics, layout and fonts. You can print to PDF from any program on your computer (e.g. MS Publisher, MS Excel, Kid Pix, etc.) and, instead of seeing the file come out on your printer, it appears as a file on your computer. That text and images in that file can be copied and pasted to other documents by the recipient, or they can be locked with a password (although you can bypass the security of PDF files with the right software). Without PDF files, everyone would have to have the exact same computer system, including fonts and software. This would present problems, obviously.

However, printing to PDF--you never save a file to PDF file format--requires a special printer driver. Individuals were limited to a proprietary solution by Adobe, the company that originally came up with Acrobat PDF files. While Adobe has lowered the cost of the tools used to create PDF files, this can still be an expensive purchase when you may not need all the features of the proprietary program.

Be aware that the proprietary software (works only on Mac and Windows platforms) also allows you to edit text in PDF files, merge multiple PDF files together, as well as a host of other features. Most people, though, only want to put their original documents in a format they can easily share with others. Since they have access to the original document, they have little need to take advantage of the features offered by the more expensive Adobe Acrobat product. So, what are the free alternatives to the $100-$160 (depending on whether you buy the standard or professional version) Adobe Acrobat software?

You have several alternatives, and they generally provide the basic functionality needed to create PDF files. These are divided into two categories--PDF Printer Drivers and Web-based Conversion Programs. PDF Printer Drivers allow you to print from any application (e.g. MS Publisher) to Portable Document Format (PDF), while Web-based Conversion Programs will take most files you have created and convert them after creation to PDF. It is up to you to determine which is most convenient.

PDF Printer Drivers
  1. CutePDF - http://www.cutepdf.com
    It is free for personal and non-commercial use. A shareware version exists for $49.92
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# MyMorph - http://docmorph.nlm.nih.gov/docmorph/default.htm
  • A Windows only program, it enables you to convert hundreds of files for conversion to PDF. It requires Internet access since it works with the Web-based Conversion Program, DocMorph (shared below). MyMorph is a Windows-based software program that significantly increases the functionality of the DocMorph Web site by enabling users to select hundreds of files at one time for PDF file conversion. MyMorph uploads files via the Internet to DocMorph, waits for results, and downloads the newly created PDF files to hard disk.
  1. PrimoPDF - http://www.primopdf.com/
    In addition to printing from any program to PDF, it also allows you to print PDFs with 40-/128-bit encryption. You can also set it to include a password to open, password to change, disable printing, disable text/graphics copying, disable commenting, disable text editing, disable page addition. Finally, it allows for adding document information, such as title, keywords, subject, and author, to the PDF files. PDF Creator - http://sector7g.wurzel6.de/pdfcreator/index_en.htm
    A standard PDF Printer Driver for Windows, it allows you to print from any application to a PDF file.
  2. OpenOffice 2.0 - http://www.openoffice.org
    Not strictly a PDF Printer Driver, OpenOffice allows you to open any MS Office document and then export the file to PDF. This limits the file formats you can work with to those that can be opened by OpenOffice. Be aware that OpenOffice 2.0 (available for free on all software platforms) can open over 100 different formats, including MS Office, multiple graphic formats, and more.
Web-based Conversion Programs
  1. DocMorph - http://docmorph.nlm.nih.gov/docmorph/docmorph.htm
    Allows you to convert from fifty different file formats, including PDFs, to five different outputs. Those output formats include Portable Document Format (PDF), Multi-page Tagged Image File Format (TIFF), Single-page TIFF, Text, and Synthesized speech.
  2. Online PDF Converter - http://convert.neevia.com
    While this online PDF converter has a 1 megabyte limit per file--which may limit you if you have a document that has lots of images--you can convert from a wide variety of formats (easily over 50) to PDF. Two nice features is that it allows you to add a watermark image of any text you enter on multiple pages. It also enables you to encrypt your PDF document. While I recommend using your own encryption tools (read previous issue of Download a la Mode regarding Data Encryption for more information), this can add a simple protection to your document.
  3. PDF Online - http://pdfonline.com
    Converts various formats (MS Office, html, common graphic formats) to PDF. Note that you can buy additional PDF Printer Drivers at prices ranging from approximately $10 to $40. However, you should consider the tools in the previous section--PDF Printer Drivers--before investing.
If you're wondering which to go with, consider what your needs are. If you are using MS Publisher, as well as other software (not including MS Office), and you need to print to PDF, then definitely consider using PrimoPDF or PDF Creator. If your needs are much simpler--for example, you want to convert Powerpoint and MS Word documents to PDF--then install a copy of Open Office 2.x on your computer or take advantage of DocMorph for single conversions to PDF, or MyMorph if converting multiple documents. Again, your best best is to use Open Office when dealing with MS Office documents. This is especially true for Windows and Linux users. Macintosh users, of course, can choose print then click on the PDF button to save the file as a PDF.

#2: How can I store my bookmarks online with others?

Social bookmarking is defined in Wikipedia's online encyclopedia in the following way as an activity that is...

...performed over a computer network that allows users to save and categorize a personal collection of bookmarks and share them with others. Users may also take bookmarks saved by others and add them to their own collection, as well as to subscribe to the lists of others.

These free, web-based tools go much farther than traditional web-based bookmarking tools. Those tools are considered first generation tools that are focused on individual use. Unlike those tools, social bookmarking falls into the concept of the Read/Write Web. The Read/Write Web is focused on collaboration and interacting with others online. Like blogs, wikis and other tools, these are about sharing our information online. Often, these social bookmarking lists end up redistributed via blogs as Real Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds. RSS, if you are not familiar with it, is a way of sharing frequently updated information in list format that includes date, time, title and content in easily readable format. Most blogs and content management systems take advantage of RSS to distribute their content to a wide audience. Social bookmarking tools also take advantage of RSS for the same reason.

For example, if you use any of the following free services, others can subscribe to your bookmark list and see what you find worthy of bookmarking. Three of my favorite social bookmarking tools include the following:

The services they offer are essentially the same, however, each has its own pecularities and eccentricities. You will have to experiment and find the one that best fits your style. Del.icio.us is the most popular and widely-used of social bookmarking tools, and others are springing up. Del.icio.us was also just purchased by Yahoo!, so changes are expected. Yahoo! also purchased another Read/Write Web tool that is popular known as Flickr!

#3: How can I easily share images with others?

Like social bookmarking, sharing images on the web for more than just personal use has become a phenomenon. Sharing pictures so that others can use them--sometimes under Creative Commons copyright--is fast-becoming a way of building a communal image repository. Like Del.icio.us, Flickr was one of the first tools on the scene. Others--such as Zoto, Glide Digital, Shutterbook--are available, but Flickr is by far the best and most widely used. You can even take pictures with your mobile phone and have them automatically appear on Flickr. Some are creatively using Flickr images to generate slide shows.

At their best, these online tools allow you to create web-based photo albums that facilitate image sharing with family and friends, as well as complete strangers if you so choose. You can add comments to the photos, as well as post photos to your blog. This makes these image sharing tools incredibly powerful enablers for you to share your life with others. Unfortunately, they are tools that are used by both adults and children alike and sometimes, images shared can be inappropriate. In other circumstances, they can also be the perfect tool. How these image sharing resources are used and how accessible they are behind district firewalls is up for debate.

#4: How can I store my files online so that they can be accessible from anywhere?

Ever had to email a large file--whether it's a multimedia slide show, zipped file, digital photo, or video--to someone only to find that they didn't have enough email storage capacity in their email to receive it? Or, worse, that you lacked the storage to send the file? While you could have emailed that file to yourself using a Yahoo or Gmail account with extra storage space (2-4 gigabytes of space, respectively), you could also have taken advantage of online storage services. Often, while we may have places to store large files online as backups, how do we send those to others? Several such services exist and include the following:

  • openomy - http://openomy.com/
    Provides 1 gigabyte of storage space, is free (or it wouldn't be listed here), and allows you to have open space accessible as well as closed space (private). Unlike past online storage space services, it organizes information using tags (short single word descriptors) rather than folders. This allows you to refer to the file using a variety of words or tags. This enables the file to reach a greater audience because you are not focused on the file but the words that describe the file.
  • Dropload - http://www.dropload.com
    This fascinating service allows you to "drop your files off" and then allow someone else to pick them up. You upload the file then specify who is to be the person that will pick up the file. The person receives an email with the necessary instructions on how to get the file you've made available for them. The files--up to a 100 megabytes each--are kept online for 7 days and then deleted.
  • YouSendIt - http://www.yousendit.com
    A service similar to DropLoad, also free, but provides you with up to 1 gigabyte of storage space and features data encryption.

#5: What is an easy tool to use to create tutorials for publication online?
Wish you had a tool to create online tutorials without expensive software? If you're a Windows or Linux user, then you can take advantage of Wink. Wink is a tutorial and presentation creation software, primarily aimed at creating tutorials on how to use software. It allows you to capture screenshots, add explanations boxes, buttons, titles, and more so as to create tutorial. Once you have created a tutorial, you can save it in a variety of formats such as Macromedia Flash, Standalone EXE, PDF, PostScript, HTML or any of the following image formats: BMP/JPG/PNG/TIFF/GIF.

#6: How can I convert Powerpoint slide shows to an easy to view web-based slide show?
Although Wink is a nice tool to use to create tutorials, what if you already have Powerpoint presentations that you want to place on the Web as slide shows? While we could use Powerpoint's built-in Save As HTML feature, the resulting HTML files and graphics are bloated and painful to manage. How could we easily put our Powerpoint presentation on the Web in one file? A simple solution is to use OpenOffice 2.0. This free, open source Office Suite enables you to open Powerpoint presentations then export them as a Flash movie. Flash compatibility is now standard on Windows, Mac and Linux operating system Internet browsers. In addition to being more compatible (Flash movies easily work on more browsers than the html code generated by Powerpoint's export feature), you also have only ONE file to work with. This means you can easily attach the file to emails you might send, put it on your web server and then point people to the web address. Or, you could place the file on the web so that it can
#7: How can I create and share a calendar of events via the Web with others?

There are a wide variety of tools available for sharing calendars of events online. However, here are three that you need to be aware of that take advantage of Read/Write Web technologies such as RSS. Those include the following:

  • Calendar Hub - http://calendarhub.com/
    According to their web site, it allows you to create multiple personal or group calendars, find and add local events to your calendar, get reminders by email/phone, invite others to events, and provide RSS feeds to any calendar. You can also subscribe to public calendars, enabling even more information sharing.
  • RSS Calendar - http://rsscalendar.com
    Similar to Calendar Hub, and also includes RSS Feed for inclusion in your blog.