Productivity software

Acrobat and Its Alternatives: 4 Ways to Edit PDFs

Nitro PDF Professional 6

Compared to Foxit's plain, basic appearance, Nitro PDF Professional 6 certainly looks prettier. It borrows from Microsoft Office 2010's "ribbon" interface: Tools are spread across the top in tabs with labels like "Create and Convert," "Insert and Edit" and "Review." You click a category tab and then choose from functions within that category that are represented by big, bright icons.

User interface: Vertical tabs run along the left side of the document (listing "Pages," "Bookmarks," "Signatures" and so on). If you click the "Pages" tab, for example, a frame will open and show you thumbnails of the pages of your document to help you scroll through them.

Furthering the tab interface motif, when you have more than one document loaded into the program, Nitro places each one under its own horizontal tab.

Working with PDFs: To edit a row of words, you double-click on the row and a blinking cursor appears. You can then move that cursor along the row and position it where you need to type in or delete text.

Nitro also lets you move, resize and otherwise manipulate text in a way that's similar to the way you do it in Foxit: If you click on a row of words, they will be surrounded by a frame marked with eight anchor points. You can then drag and drop the text row to another part of the document.

Clicking on and dragging any of the anchor points lets you stretch or shrink the height or width of the text. Like Foxit, Nitro also lets you change the text's height and width separately; these two aspects are not linked together to maintain the scale of the text's size, as they are in Adobe Acrobat X.

And there's a ninth anchor point set above the frame. When you click on and move it side to side with your mouse, you can rotate the selected row of text clockwise or counterclockwise.

Nitro's tools for resizing or repositioning graphics in a PDF document work the same as its text tools.

Product info

Nitro PDF Professional 6

Nitro PDF Inc.

Price: $99.99

Pros: Tab interface. Handles multiple documents well.

Cons: Paused when saving edits.

What works well: I liked the way Nitro handles multiple documents: You click on the tab of the document you want to switch to, like you do when clicking through the tabs of Web sites opened in a browser. This is a simple but useful feature that sets Nitro apart from the other three PDF editors in this roundup.

What needs fixing: Nitro PDF Professional 6 ran well, generally. But as I finished editing, the application would pause briefly -- apparently to process the new text and incorporate it into the document -- before returning full control back to me.

Bottom line: Nitro PDF Professional 6 is a good choice for people who like the Office 2010 ribbon interface, and its use of a tab interface will make editing among two or more open documents convenient.

Nuance PDF Converter Professional 7

Nuance Communications, the maker of PDF Converter Professional 7, is known best for its speech-recognition software, Dragon. PDF Converter uses editing tools that are nearly identical to those used in Adobe Acrobat.

User interface: As is the case with the other PDF editors in this roundup, side panels accompany the document in the application's main viewing area: panels on the right side help you do things like sign the document digitally, set passwords for it and embed watermarks into it. A panel on the left lets you quickly navigate through the document's elements, such as its bookmarks, thumbnails of its pages and tags.

Working with PDFs: Nuance's method of editing text in a PDF document is nearly identical to Acrobat's: You select a tool called Touchup Text and then you click the cursor on a spot in a row of words where you wish to enter new text, or you highlight words or letters you want to replace. Then you just type, and the new text will either be inserted at the point where the cursor is positioned or it will replace the text you highlighted.

Like Foxit and Nitro, Nuance lets you alter the height, width and orientation of a row of text, and the height and the width can be changed independently of each other.

However, while the other two applications use the same tool to edit and manipulate text, Nuance uses one tool, Touchup Text, to edit text and a different tool, Touchup Object, to manipulate blocks of text. It looks identical to Nitro's editing tool: Selected text is surrounded by a frame marked by eight anchor points, which you click on and drag to stretch or shrink the text row's height and width. A ninth anchor above the frame lets you rotate the row clockwise or counterclockwise.

Even though Nuance (and Acrobat) separate the chores of editing text and manipulating it, I didn't necessarily find this inconvenient. In some ways, it helped make things clearer in my mind as to what exactly I wanted to do with the text (edit it or move it).

Product info

Nuance PDF Converter Professional 7

Nuance Communications Inc.

Price: $99.99

Pros: Can split document into separate views.

Cons: Loads a separate window for each document being edited.

What works well: What makes Nuance different from the other three editors is that it lets you split your view of a document in the main window into two or four panels. Within each, you can scroll through and work on different areas of the same page. This feature can be useful if you need to work on a document with unusually large pages.

What needs fixing: When you do load more than one document into Nuance, the program runs another window of itself -- so if you open three documents, you'll have three instances of the Nuance application running. Cutting and pasting text and graphics among multiple, open documents can feel like a juggling act, compared to Nitro's more efficient tabbed user interface.

Bottom line: Nuance is a good low-cost version of Acrobat, and the split-screen view of your PDF can be helpful if you need to work on a document that has several pages.

Conclusions

Adobe Acrobat X Standard is a premium product that works well, but its price makes it hard to justify if all you need to do is simply edit a few PDFs now and then.

Nuance PDF Converter Professional 7 works well; it's basically a low-cost clone of Adobe's software with the addition of a split-screen viewing feature. However, it's awkward to work with when you're dealing with more than one document.

I was initially partial to Foxit -- the great reputation of the company's PDF reader and its surprisingly small installation file size were strong factors in its favor. But Foxit turns out to be a bare-bones application when you compare its features with Nuance's and Nitro's, and I wasn't fond of its indirect way of letting you edit text. If it cost less, then it would be a far more competitive choice.

So I have to give the nod to Nitro PDF Professional 6. For the same price as Foxit and Nuance, it's a nice balance between the editing tools of Acrobat and Nuance and the speed of Foxit. It has the most efficient user interface -- thanks to the fact that it uses browserlike tabs -- when it comes to editing text and manipulating images, especially when you need to cut and paste among multiple documents opened at the same time. And its use of an interface identical to that of Microsoft Office's ribbon interface means it can mesh well with your workflow, particularly if you are already using the latest versions of Office.

In the end, the tabs win.

Howard Wen reports on technology news, trends and products as a frequent contributor to Computerworld and Network World.

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