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PDF Software

PDF software enables viewing, creating, merging, and manipulating files in PDF format. Common features of PDF tools include digital signatures, watermarking, and encryption. PDF software is related to Document Management software and Productivity software. Find the best PDF program for your organisation in Australia.

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PDF Software Buyers Guide

PDF Software is a type of software that makes the viewing, creating, and merging of PDF files possible. PDF has become one of the more commonly-used document formats in the business world over the past decade, making the ability to handle them a crucial part of doing business. PDFs are a standardised file format, so any PDF software will work with PDF files, regardless of whether that software was initially used to create the file.

There is a lot of variation between different PDF software offerings, with the net result being that the only real “core” feature that can be expected in all software solutions is the ability to view PDF files. Many will also provide the ability to create and edit PDF files, while others will have more specialist functionality, such as merging multiple PDFs into one (or splitting one into many). Some software solutions—such as those provided by the creator of the PDF file standard—provide a complete feature set for handling PDF files.

The ability to view, create, and manipulate PDF files provides obvious benefits to businesses these days, with the ability to read PDF files being arguably a critical feature for a business to have access to. Many software packages will provide the ability to automatically export the documents they produce as PDFs. Therefore, the ability to create these files is not as critical as the ability to read them. Being able to properly utilise PDF files also increases security, as documents in this format are more secure than many other types of document files.

This type of software shares many of the same areas of focus as other document management software, such as spreadsheet software, it is concerned with a specific type of file format, rather than a specific type of document. Indeed, PDF documents can contain a wide range of information, including spreadsheets, text documents, and presentations, though the software used to create the PDF file can limit what can be included in it.

Businesses looking to purchase PDF software need to consider many factors in their decision-making process, such as the specific features they need, licensing requirements, security concerns, and what the resulting documents will be used for. Generally speaking, for a piece of software to be included in the PDF software category, it will need to contain many of the following features:

  • The ability to convert existing documents to PDF files, allowing users to create documents in applications they are already familiar with
  • Editing existing PDF documents to change certain elements such as images and text blocks, as well as do things like combine and split files
  • Easily share PDF files with other people from within the software, maybe coupled with the ability for those users to leave comments on the file
  • Password protect PDF files to prevent them from being seen by individuals who were not meant to view them
  • Create documents for signing—such as contracts—that can be sent to the involved party to be digitally signed
  • Mobile applications that bring many of the more common features to mobile devices so that PDF files can be viewed, created, and edited on the go

What is PDF Software?

PDF software is used by businesses and individuals to view, create, and manipulate PDF files. PDF files are an essential aspect of modern business correspondence because they are widely used. This file standard was created by Adobe in the 1990s and has been widely adopted due to its versatility and security. While PDF software is needed to perform different actions, it is possible to view a PDF using free software, and commonly used software like browsers often can view PDFs built-in. This means that businesses can be sure the recipient of a PDF file will be able to view it.

PDF files also provide other features that often cannot be found in a single file standard, especially one so widely adopted. For example, a PDF file can contain a wide range of media, whereas other common file types—such as spreadsheet files—are more limited. Additionally, PDF files can make use of certain features, such as password protection and the ability to make parts of a document un-editable. Documents can also be set so that other users can leave comments on them without being allowed to edit the document itself.

Most businesses use PDF files to some degree in their correspondence precisely because of how widely adopted the standard is. It is also possible to convert documents from other file formats into PDF files, though this functionality may vary between different PDF software solutions. The fact that many browsers natively support the ability to view PDFs presents businesses with the option of putting PDF documents directly online for customers and other web users to view. Generally speaking, PDF files offer businesses several conveniences in correspondence with other parties that would be much more difficult—or even impossible—with other file formats.

What are the benefits of PDF software?

The benefits of PDF software are based on the ability to use PDF files in several ways, though the PDF files themselves provide the benefits. Furthermore, there are certain things that PDF software allows users to do that make those benefits attainable. Some of the more specific benefits provided by the use of PDF software within a business setting include:

  • Maintain a popular file standard: As mentioned above, PDF files have become one of the most commonly used document file formats in business. One of the advantages of a widely-used file standard is that a business can be confident that the recipient of any correspondence in that file standard will be able to read the file, which will save time and frustration on the part of both parties.
  • Simple creation thanks to conversion: Due to the popularity of PDF files, it is increasingly common for other applications to provide the ability to export to PDF. When this isn’t an option, the PDF software itself will often provide that functionality. One of the easiest ways this can be done is through a virtual printer, which takes the output that would ordinarily be sent to a printer and converts it to a PDF file. In this manner, any printable document can be converted into a PDF file. For businesses, this can mean a noticeable saving in training since users will not need to be trained to use a new software package to create certain documents and can instead continue using the existing software and convert the results.
  • File size reduction: Although not the case in all situations, PDF files can be smaller than their counterpart documents, especially when dealing with media-rich documents. As the most common use for digital documents is correspondence over email and other digital communication, having a smaller file size is beneficial, as it will send more quickly and take up less space in the recipient’s inbox. For an organisation storing millions of documents, PDFs can also represent a significant saving on data storage.
  • Security: PDF files can be password-protected, making it a more secure medium to send sensitive information through. Documents can also be made partially or entirely read-only, meaning only approved users can edit, or only parts of the document can be edited. These features increase the security of sending documents since the sender knows the document can’t be tampered with in a way that is not approved.
  • Integration of hyperlinks: The PDF file standard supports hyperlinks, allowing the sender to include links to addresses or other documents within the PDF file itself.
  • Future-proofing: Due to the versatility and ubiquitousness of the PDF file standard, it is highly unlikely that it will go away any time soon. This means that businesses can be sure their documents will remain accessible for a long time to come.

What are the features of PDF software?

The features of PDF are focused on making it as easy as possible to take advantage of the many features that the PDF file standard provides. In many cases, this means bringing PDF functionality into other applications rather than having a feature in the PDF software itself. Furthermore, many features can be found in this type of software, though it’s important to note that the feature set of a given PDF solution can vary substantially from another solution. Here are some of the most common features of PDF software:

  • Ease of use: PDF files have become so widely adopted because they simplify many aspects of working with digital documents. Therefore, software solutions for working with PDF files often place high importance on user-friendly interfaces and simple controls. This should result in less training—if any—required to bring an employee up to the necessary level of technical ability to use this software.
  • Ability to view, create and edit PDF files: Naturally, the central feature of this type of software is the ability to view and manipulate PDF files. It is uncommon for PDF software to not provide the ability to view PDF files, but many solutions will also provide the ability to edit them. Creation can be done directly in the software in some cases, but it is more common to convert an existing document to a PDF (see below).
  • Straightforward collaboration functionality: Many PDF solutions will provide functionality for working collaboratively on a document. This includes things like being able to have multiple users working on the same document and having some way of clearly distinguishing between the users in that document.
  • Scanning and OCR functionality: Though businesses are moving away from physical documents, many still have to deal with hard copies regularly. Additionally, companies that have switched away from hardcopies still often have legacy documents that they need to digitise. Some PDF solutions include the functionality to scan physical documents into the application so that the application can convert any scanned text into digital text for things like the search function.
  • Security features: Password protection and protected documents are common in business PDF use, so many PDF solutions intended for use in the business world will provide the ability to add these features to a document. Password protection completely locks the document to any user that doesn’t have the password, meaning they cannot view or modify the contents. Locking a document allows users to view it but prevents them from modifying it. It is also possible to lock certain parts of a document, such as in the case of documents intended to be filled out by a user. In these cases, the text of the document can be locked while the fields where the user must input information can be left open.
  • Convert to PDF: The ability to convert existing documents of other file types to PDF is probably the most common way PDF files are created. This method has the advantage of meaning users do not have to learn to use new software to create documents and can rather create the document in the software they are familiar with and convert the resulting document. Conversion can be done through the PDF solution itself. However, another common method is through a virtual printer (usually installed by the software), which allows any software with the ability to print documents to “print” to the PDF printer, which in turn outputs a PDF document.
  • Mobile PDF: The ability to view and modify PDF documents on the go is increasingly important as more and more business moves away from desktop computers and onto handheld devices like tablets and mobile phones. Having mobile capability ensures that a business won’t need to use additional software to work with PDF files on mobile devices.

What should be considered when purchasing PDF software?

When purchasing PDF software, it is essential to consider the needs of the business against the features included with the PDF software. One example of this is the ability to convert specific files to PDF—this may require special software if dealing with an obscure or bespoke file format, but in most cases, the ability to print to PDF will be enough. Here are more things to consider when purchasing PDF software for business use:

  • What features does the business need? Ordinarily, it would be best to consider the cost of the software first. However, when it comes to PDF files, the ubiquitousness of the file format means that many businesses may not even need specific software. As mentioned above, many browsers include the ability to view PDF files natively. Additionally, many free software solutions can add print to PDF functionality. For smaller businesses, these two aspects may be more than enough for what is needed.
  • How much does the software cost? For businesses that need more in-depth PDF features, the cost of that software will become more relevant, as it is unlikely that free software solutions will have the features that are required. In many cases, this will come down to a matter of licensing rather than an upfront cost of the software itself. Businesses will pay per “seat”, so the cost of the software will depend on how many instances of it the business will need to run.
  • Is the business working with physical documents? Businesses working with hardcopy documents—whether new documents that need entering into the system or archived documents that need digitising—will need a PDF solution that supports scanning and Optical Character Recognition (OCR). This allows users to scan physical documents into the software and automatically recognise any text in the document so that it can be searched or converted into a plain text document.
  • Does the business need collaborative features? For businesses that need to support multiple employees working on the same document, collaborative features will need to be included in the software solution. These features make it much easier to have several people working on a single document, either all at once or during different times of the day. It also makes it easier to work collaboratively when the team members are in various locations.
  • Does the software support any needed security features? Businesses using PDF files will often need to implement certain security features on their files, whether it is locking parts of the document to ensure they are not changed or password protecting the entire thing to ensure no unauthorised users can access it. This is not something found in all PDF solutions, so it’s essential to ensure it is included in a potential purchase if needed.
  • Is the software being actively developed? The popularity of PDF as a file format has inescapably led to there being many software offerings to choose from, but not all of those developers have stayed the course. When choosing a PDF software solution, it is essential to ensure the developer behind that solution is still active. If possible, it is also worth considering how likely they are to remain active for the foreseeable future. This should reduce the chances of purchasing software that will quickly become outdated due to a lack of development. Of course, this shouldn’t be a problem with cloud-native applications.
  • Does the developer have an adequate privacy policy? Though less of an issue when purchasing standalone software that is deployed locally and does not connect to the cloud, businesses dealing with sensitive information should ensure the software they are purchasing or subscribing to has an adequate privacy policy around it. While this doesn’t guarantee that data won’t be intercepted, it should offer some legal protection if it is.

The most relevant PDF software trends are focused on improving the existing features commonly found in PDF software. As the underlying file format is widely adopted, there is an “if it isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it” mentality around the software. This is not to say that innovation shouldn’t be expected. Some of the most relevant trends in this space include:

  • Optimisation for mobile devices: As mentioned above, businesses are using mobile devices more and more these days. Unfortunately, what mobile devices bring to the table in portability, they sometimes lack ease of use, particularly when dealing with anything complex like a media-rich document. Software developers will likely be looking to improve the mobile experience for this reason.
  • Cloud applications: Like many areas of business and software, cloud-native applications and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is becoming the preferred mode for delivering software solutions. This is likely to continue in the PDF space as more software providers look to give users a reason to use their products.
  • Increased data efficiency: As previously mentioned, one of the advantages of using PDF files—mainly when those files contain a lot of images—is that PDF files are often smaller. The benefits of having a smaller file size coupled with the fact that mobile devices are becoming increasingly popular for business use means that software providers will continue to increase the efficiency with which PDF files store data, further reducing the file sizes involved.