January 28, 2010, 11:24 AM — A lot of our deliverables are PDF instances (or, more properly, systems which produce PDF images). Just this week, PDFjam saved us.
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
pdfjoin 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
GIF was the right lightweight way to get a point across, and GIFfun did its part without a hitch.