How often do you work with PDF documents? Do you just read them or do you need to copy text fragments and make occasional corrections to the data they contain? These are some of the questions we put this summer to more than 500 employees of medium and large-sized companies. The survey revealed many interesting facts about the PDF format and how it is used in the modern office.
PDF, or Portable Document Format, is an open file format used for exchanging electronic documents. Documents, forms, images, and web pages encoded in PDF can be correctly displayed on any device, including smartphones and tablets. If you distribute your reports in PDF, you can be sure that all of your colleagues will be able to open and read it on their PCs, Macs or Android smartphones.
PDF/A is a version of PDF, designed for long-term archiving of digital documents. It excludes some of the PDF features which are incompatible with long-term archiving to ensure that when a user opens the document in several years' time, it will look exactly the same as when it was archived.
The above characteristics make PDF one of the most convenient document formats to work with.
PDF is overrated — or is it?
PDF proved to be even more popular than we had expected, with one in two respondents claiming that they regularly needed to manipulate PDF files. Simply viewing PDFs was often not enough. Here are the five most common scenarios identified by the poll:
- Search a PDF document for information
- Copy data from a PDF document
- Manipulate pages in a PDF document, e.g. add, delete, or change the order of pages
- Make minor changes to the text of a PDF document, e.g. correct typos or errors
- Combine multiple files in various formats into one PDF document
More than 50% of those surveyed said they regularly had to perform at least one of the five operations above. Some of them can be successfully addressed by simple PDF viewing applications that can be easily downloaded free of charge. With a free PDF viewer, users can open a document, find a particular text string, and, sometimes, copy content to the Clipboard. The other three, however, require more powerful software.
When free software can't cope
Suppose you spot a typo in an important report. How do you correct it in PDF? Not to worry, many of today's PDF tools let you make minor corrections to the text. Some tools will also allow you to merge multiple documents (say, two Word documents and an Excel table) into one PDF or change the order of pages. The more powerful a tool, the less likely it is to be freeware.
However, simple PDF viewing applications cannot successfully handle PDF files created with a scanner. Suppose you ask your colleague to send you a report in PDF, but she only has the paper original to hand. So she scans the paper pages to PDF and forwards them to you. Now, with a regular PDF viewer, you can open and read the report, but you won't be able to copy any text. You are not alone in this predicament, with 81% of office workers complaining of a similar problem.
The snag with such scanned PDFs is that they do not contain a text layer. They are just pictures of paper pages, as if they were taken with a digital camera. Can the problem be solved? Yes, for sure. All you need is a more sophisticated software product that can "read" the text in the picture and translate it into editable alphanumeric characters. Free PDF viewing apps can't do that.
And how about paper?
This is an important question for us as well. As human beings, we want to preserve the Earth's forests and, as a company, we help businesses to switch to digital documents. We asked our respondents to tell us if they had noticed any changes in the amount of paper documents they'd had to deal with in the past two years.
It transpired that, despite the growing use of digital documents, the number of paper documents had also increased. This was attested by 68% of respondents, which clearly shows that our job is not done yet.
One thing is evident. PDF is becoming an important document format in the office and requires software that is both easy to use and sophisticated enough to handle all kinds of files, including scans (remember the growing number of paper documents?).