Adobe's portable document format (PDF) is everywhere these days -- and it's easy to see why. PDF files are secure. They also allow publishers to distribute documents with complex formatting retained, and, thanks to the free Adobe Acrobat Reader, they can be viewed by just about anyone on any platform.
But what if you'd like to do more with PDF files -- such as converting them into text, or creating them yourself? That's when most questions arise. Read on for some answers.
How to turn PDF into editable text?
There are a few ways. First, you can scan the document and then use an application to turn the scanned document into editable text. To do this, you'll need two tools: a scanner and an optical character recognition (OCR) package. Most people have a scanner these days. If you don't, you can find good flatbed scanners for as little as 25 dollars.
As for an OCR package, you might already have one without knowing it. If you have Microsoft Office installed on your PC, you also have an application called Microsoft Office Document Imaging, which can do everything from scanning a printed document to performing optical character recognition and sending the result to Word. MS Document Imaging probably won't be as accurate or preserve as much formatting as a heavy-duty commercial OCR package such as OmniPage, but it will do the trick in many situations.
Another option is to procure or purchase a full version of Adobe Acrobat or Nitro PDF Professional, which would allow you to open a PDF and save it as a text file, assuming the PDF has not been password-protected. Both Acrobat Pro and Nitro PDF are available in trial versions.
Can I use online services?
For low volume work, you might try one of the free online services, such as PDFtoWord (http://www.pdftoword.com), that will convert your PDF and e-mail you the results of the conversion. PDFtoWord does an impressive job of converting PDFs with most formatting intact.
Note that one of the reasons that the PDF format has gained such traction is that it allows companies and individuals to secure the content of the document by password-protecting the PDFs. Be sure not to redistribute protected documents that you've converted from PDFs.
Converting a document into a PDF without Acrobat Pro
If you do not want to purchase any software at all, you could turn to one of the free online services that will convert a document into PDF and send you the results by e-mail. PDF Online (http://www.pdfonline.com/convert-pdf) is one such service. This approach is suitable for one-off or low-volume work.
For higher volume work, check out the free Doc to PDF Universal Document Converter (http://www.doc-pdf.com), which is essentially a printer driver. Once installed, just open the document you'd like to convert, and from your application's File menu, select Print. In the resulting Print dialog box, select Universal Document Converter as the printer, and then click the Properties button. From the Properties panel, select Document to PDF as the profile type, and click OK. Files are saved to the folder 'c:udc output files' by default.
Older versions incompatible
The problem you might run into by downloading very old versions of Adobe Reader is that they may not support some of the features of PDF documents that you find today on the Internet. So instead of using an older version, you may want to opt for a replacement. Foxit Reader (http://www.foxitsoftware.com/pdf/reader) is free and compatible with most PDF documents in existence today.
Foxit's claim to fame is that it's 'small' and 'fast,' which will be music to the ears of those who want nothing more from a PDF reader than to read PDF documents - and quickly.
With Foxit installed, you'll probably be able to open PDF files you find on the Internet almost as quickly as you open a standard Web page. You can't ask for much more than that.
How to get rid of Acrobat toolbar buttons?
There's really only one way to remove these toolbars permanently. You can go to the Add/Remove Programs section of the Control Panel, find the Adobe installation, select it, and click Remove/Change. You'll want to 'change' the installation, and in the process remove the Create Adobe PDF options for the applications where you do not wish to see the toolbar buttons. Specifically, in the Change dialog box, you should expand the Create Adobe PDF menu and change the status of the appropriate application to 'This feature will not be available.'
Note that doing this will not affect your ability to print to PDF using the PDF printer driver. In other words, you'll still be able to create PDFs with your applications; you'll just need to select PDF as the printing format from the Print dialog box.