PDF2Office: Sweet Relief for the Office Dweller

Review: Recosoft's Vista upgrade takes some of the most useful Acrobat tools for the Microsoft Office user and bundles them for less than $100.

PDFs been around for almost a decade and a half. Its a secure environment for electronic documentation. In theory, its harder to update, edit and republish content in a PDF, and thats why its so popular. So simple, and it works great: Take a Word file or PowerPoint preso, convert to PDF, and upload to the Web or distribute via e-mail—without worrying that people on the receiving end will monkey with the content attributed to you or your company.

Until, of course, those original source files are lost. Then, it turns out, crucial content gets marooned in PDF. For times like these, Acrobat has some excellent conversion tools that port that content back into Word and its Office compadres.

But maybe the steep price of Acrobat isnt in the budget for your department. One good alternative is Recosofts PDF2Office 4, a utility that costs $89 for the Pro version, or $39 for an upgrade from previous versions.

Slick Vista stuff
PDF2Office Pro 4 integrates with Vista well, inserting itself into the "ribbon" interface that can show and hide itself at the users whim. Just like a widget, it speaks only when its spoken to. Its control panel offers a nice selection of settings that control conversion to Office apps—images, text, page layout, file format and a host of other choices including esoteric-but-crucial time savers such as font substitution. It can do batch processing or one document at a time.

The conversions work pretty well. "Pretty well" equates to "Hey, its not perfect, but at least that content that you couldnt get to yesterday is accessible today in Word." In my test file—one ugly behemoth FAQ document that someone a couple years ago converted from HTML to PDF and did a good job of cleaning up the Web-page artifacts—there were some anomalies in PDF2Offices Word file, namely a lot of blank pages inserted here and there.

Its hard to tease out problems like this and properly assign blame: While its tempting to blame PDF2Office for stuff that shows up in Word that isnt present in the PDF, it might have shown up as a result of a PDF author who dumped a bunch of stuff in the original file. Or, perhaps the original Web programmer. On the other hand, some hardcore PDF programmer types might suggest that PDF2Office should be smart enough to work around such bad code. Splitting the difference, I say that PDF2Office offers a lot more than 90 bucks worth of help for people who have crucial content living exclusively in PDFs and need a convenient way to get at it.

For the most part, the page-layout conversion lived up to expectations, yielding access to graphics and text. It was so cool to open a PDF in Word, type a couple lines, and hit "Save." The conversion process is quick, efficient and doesnt require a lot of bothersome clicks and "OKs." Perfect for cubicle dwellers on deadline putting together a presentation, updating a report or remixing marketing materials.

Other issues
Getting my laptop ready to try out PDF2Office Pro felt like a stroll down Memory Lane. As in, getting Vista functioning on my PC laptop was a throwback to the "Insert Diskette #14" era of Windows 1.0, inconvenience-wise. Then when I had to uninstall Office 2003 to make room for a clean Vista install (because the upgrade route downgraded my computers performance to roughly the level of the Atari 1200XL upon which I wrote all my college papers back in the days when Depeche Mode was king) it turns out that Dell and Microsoft both blamed each other for the licensing morass created from my lost backup CD. I still havent gotten my backup. But psst, heres a money-saving little secret: Microsoft lets you download a trial version of Office for free and upgrade from that.

I embrace new software and technologies, and Vista was a headache even for me. Its not difficult to imagine how much more of a pain in the rear life will be for the average Joe or Joanne, just trying to get some work done at the office, after the IT crew breezes through and "upgrades" their machine to Windows Vista, forcing them to endure performance hits, incessant dialog boxes, and constant background updating/downloading/installing.

If youve actually made it into the promised land/wasteland of Vista—depending on how your experience worked out—congratulations. The Vista/Office 2007 combination packs a punch of time-saving features that are simple and intuitive to learn. PDF2Office is a handy piece of software that, unlike a lot of other apps that shall remain nameless, just slips itself in and gets to work on Vista without any pain whatsoever. For the money, it delivers good functionality in a simple-to-use interface. The conversion process isnt perfect, but until Microsoft makes the Word filespec as open as Adobes made the PDF spec—as in, submitted to ISO as astandard—there will be bumps in the road.