A PDF tool worth a look: PDFjam

TeX-based open-source tool proves value


A lot of our deliverables are PDF instances (or, more properly, systems which produce PDF images). Just this week, PDFjam saved us.

[ PDF Generation Tip]

A little background will help you understand how dramatic this was: There are scores of PDF tools on the marketplace. PDF is a big subject, and no one tool comes close to solving all our needs. Just in what might seem the narrow domain of concatenators -- tools that receive several distinct PDF files as inputs, and emit a single output which includes all the inputs in sequence -- we've used over a dozen different approaches, including commercial products, our own codings, and open-source tools. Our search never ends, because our inputs keep changing. A significant portion of our processes involve reception of PDF images from end-users -- sometimes as simple as a signed signature page, sometimes a 100-page graphic-dense report -- which are then collated with other materials for a final result. Our experience is that PDF "in the wild" is ever-mutating, and we have to keep upgrading our tools to track all the changes from Xerox scanners, Microsoft Word, and everything in-between.

Just in the last week, a crisis arose when we found ourselves with a broken toolchain. We have several alternatives for each step in a particular process, but couldn't come up with a combination that worked correctly end-to-end.

PDFjam came to the rescue. Even though its

concatenating utility has been available as open source since 2004, we'd never used it in production before. As near as I can quickly reconstruct, its packaging wasn't convenient before. When we tried it this week, though, it did so well -- passing all tests, including performance thresholds -- that I rushed it into production. PDFjam isn't the final word for us; we're working already on patches to two other open-source projects. It was an immense relief for this week, though, and of course it's always a treat to profit from the TeX ecosystem Donald Knuth spawned.

More winners: ConnectNow and GIFfun

Two other no-charge utilities also came through for us this week (along with the hundreds on which we depend on a daily basis): ConnectNow is one of at least 30 different screen-sharing "meeting facilities" available in the marketplace. We've used it for much of the last year. It handled a particularly tough remote-support challenge for us this week.

Also, GIFfun worked out well for us to make a few simple instructional animations. We've experimented with a wide variety of session-capturing tools for training purposes. This time, a single animated

was the right lightweight way to get a point across, and GIFfun did its part without a hitch.

Thanks, Stone Design, David Firth, Adobe, and everyone else who makes these useful tools available.

What’s wrong? The new clean desk test
View Comments
You Might Like
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies