update… so the below review was posted on September 19th, and it’s now October 2nd, and I still haven’t heard from Inceni… They said to allow at least 10 days… oh wait… I see now that it says “working days.” Well… I guess it’s been barely 10 working days… The fact of not sending so much as a confirmation e-mail to acknowledge receipt of the customer’s request is simply poor user interface practice… We can only hope that the interface of their software behaves better than does the interface of their web site…
Unfortunately, a lot of people and companies feel the need to use PDF files. PDF files have a lot of problems with them, namely the sky-high cost of editing software. PDF forms have their own problems – After you fill out the form in the free Adobe Reader PDF editor, you can’t save or e-mail it… In short, if you have a file or document, and you want to ensure that the highest number of people around the world will be unable to edit or otherwise make use of your document, one good option is to distribute it as a PDF file.
I recently found myself with a 500 page PDF file, with my e-mail address in the footer of each page… It’s a book I purchased… And it’s a really goofy e-mail address. It’s really distracting to me to see this e-mail address on each page as I try to concentrate on reading the book. So I went searching for PDF editing software to see if I could erase it. As it turns out, ALL of the free PDF editing software that I could find was unable to do this, for one reason or another. For example libreoffice is supposed to be able to edit PDF files, but, it totally corrupted the layout of the file, rendering it unreadable, and, it can’t actually save in PDF format… so that was a bust. I found another free PDF editing solution that seemed like it might have done the trick for me, but it didn’t have a replace option… only a find option…
Finally I somehow found and tried the Infix PDF editor. For some stupid reason, this editor is not currently listed in wikipedia’s http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_PDF_software#Editors. It should be, because it has proved to be a viable PDF editor… It’s not perfect, however…
As far as editing my page footer in my 500 page document, it did this quite well. The interface is a little confusing and needs improvement. When I performed the find/replace operation, it warns me that I should make sure to have a backup of the document, because the operation can not be ‘undone.’ Oddly enough, as it performs the operation, it seems to do it in batches of a hundred pages at a time or so, and after each batch, it proceeds to save your document… If you weren’t intending to save your document, well, too bad, now you’re screwed. Unfortunately there was no warning that the file would be saved. Then, surprisingly, it pops up another dialog telling you that the file has been automatically backed up for you. Sure enough, I found a backup copy of the file in the same directory as the original file. It’s not clear to me (and I couldn’t be bothered to try to figure out) if this is a backup of the open file as it was before the find/replace operation was initiated, or as it was when it was last saved. (i.e., you might have done a lot of editing between the time you last saved it and the time that you initiated the find/replace.) Still, I give them an A for effort. They are obviously trying to make a good product, in doing so they are paying attention to details that 99% of all developers just don’t worry about. I think they got it wrong in this case as the interface doesn’t make clear what all is going to happen when you initiated a find/replace, but that’s a minor inconvenience, and you soon learn that it is one of the quirks of the design that you have to be aware of.
My next test of the Infix PDF editor came when my cat went missing. I needed to fax in a form to PetTrac, which is this insufferable backwards company that doesn’t let you register your cat’s microchip via their web site. At PetTrac, apparently, it’s still 1985 or something… hence their use of a PDF form. So I downloaded the form from their web site, and I opened it with Infix. I got an error stating “XML interactive form detected… this document contains a form definition that may not be compatible with Infix.” And sure enough, it wasn’t. The check boxes didn’t check, I couldn’t fill out the two letter abbreviation for my state unless I put it in lower case (upper case didn’t fit in the box.) I was able to improvise by creating a ‘check’ in MSPaint and pasting it over the appropriate check boxes, and using my mouse I scribbled out an approximation of my signature and pasted it onto the signature box of the form. Infix is, after all, a PDF editing program, and it does let you edit a PDF file pretty much the same as if you were editing any old word processing document.
The problem with my Pettrac form came when I went to save it… I saved it, closed it, and then opened it again, to make sure that it actually was saving the contents of the form that I had just filled out…. When I opened it back up, all my info was there…. but… So far so good… I closed it again, and this time, I opened it up with Adobe Acrobat reader… No dice… All of my info was gone… I open it back up in Infix, and my info is all there again… so with this particular form, there is some odd incompatibility between how Infix works and how other PDF software works… It’s not safe to assume that the ‘fault’ lies with Infix, because it could well be that there is something wrong with the form its self… It could be that the folks at Pettrac are using some obsolete PDF editor to make the form in the first place. Who knows. Considering the Pettrac company doesn’t even have online or even e-mail registration, but requires you send in a fricking FAX… it’s very possible they messed something up in their form. I used my online fax service to fax the form to myself, and sure enough, the form was blank when I received the fax. Talk about disappointing. Hopefully the folks at Infix can read this review, track down the form, (it’s the registration form) and find out what the problem is, and do whatever is needed to make the Infix PDF editor compatible with whatever is wrong with that form. Even if the form has some bug in it, it would be nice if the folks at Iceni could implement a work-around, because at the end of the day, users don’t care which software is compliant with which standard, users just want software to work. If they do make Infix compatible with the stupid Pettrac form, I’ll update this blog entry to reflect that.
In the end, because Infix could not save the form in a way that my fax service could open up the form and retrieve the info I had filled out, I had to print the form out on paper, photograph it with my DSLR, and then fax the JPG of the form instead of the PDF to Pettrac. All that hassle because the folks at Pettrac don’t have a working registration web site and insist on using PDF forms instead. Thanks Pettrac!
Other than that, the remaining criticisms I have of the Infix software are minor… the free demo of Infix PDF editor adds a watermark to any pages which are edited and saved or edited and printed… That’s understandable… if there was no watermark, then there would be no incentive for anyone to pay for their software, and there could be no software development. I did find it annoying however that the watermark was added to my Pettrac registration form when I printed it, considering that the free Adobe Reader does not add a watermark when printing a form. You’ve got to figure that if someone is simply using their Infix PDF editor to fill out and print a PDF form, they’re probably not doing anything they couldn’t also do with the free Adobe Reader, so to stay competitive with the free Adobe Reader, I would suggest that the free Infix demo should not add a watermark in that particular situation… you know, maybe leave off the watermark when printing files that have forms in them that are less than say 5 or 10 pages.
One thing that was terribly annoying about the free demo is how every time you open any file, it pops up this dialog asking if you want to open the file in Professional mode or Standard mode. It never was made clear to me what, exactly, the difference is, and there is no option to just pick one and have it stop asking you that… (once you pay to register the software, it quits asking you this, because when you register, you choose which mode to register in .. professional, or standard.) So I always just clicked on the “professional” mode… oh.. wait a minute.. I just noticed that there is a third option… “form-filling mode”, in which no watermark is added. Wow… See… that’s the problem with interfaces that are too cluttered and that give users too many choices…
Another complaint I have is that it’s not possible to control the magnification more precisely. I’m sitting here trying to read my 500 page PDF book, and on one magnification level it’s too big, but on the next smaller level, it’s too small. There is no setting in-between. I can go still bigger and smaller, but I can’t dial in an exact percentage as you can with the free Adobe Reader.
On the plus side for Infix, I can actually scroll through my 500 page document… Adobe Reader was having all kinds of trouble drawing the document on my screen, with a huge lag every time I scroll a single line… It’s simply not possible for me to read any document with that kind of lag. No doubt my system could use more memory and a faster processor, but, given the same level of system resources, Infix gets the job done while Adobe Reader simply chokes… I’d hate to think what would happen if I loaded the larger and no doubt more memory-hungry Adobe editor software on the same system… I don’t like the scrolling action of Infix, it doesn’t seem to be quite as smooth as in Adobe (when Adobe is working)… the Infix reader jumps one line at a time as I rotate the scroll wheel of my mouse, I would prefer if it would scroll smoothly instead of jumping. But then again it may be the slightly smoother scrolling action that is crippling Adobe reader, due to the increased processor usage that comes with it.
Again, I was REALLY impressed with the find/replace of Infix. You can even use wildcards… and it doesn’t choke on a 500 page document, even on a system with limited memory and processor speed… It took a couple of minutes for it to get through the entire document, but it got the job done. It’s got other functions and features, but I didn’t play with them because that’s really all I wanted, was to be able to do some simple editing of a PDF file as if it was a regular word processor file.
So let’s talk about cost.
Infix professional runs about $159, and the standard version is $99. What’s the difference between the two? The hell if I know. Sadly, Infix missed an opportunity to explain this, and I’m too lazy to go digging for the info. That annoying pop-up window that comes up in the demo mode EVERY TIME you open a document would be a great place to put some details about the differences. So the user is left with the choice of trying to dig for this information on the Infix web site, or trying to reverse engineering the differences by trying to open the same document in one mode and then the other, and checking to see which functions do or don’t work in which modes. It would be nice if they would just have ONE mode, and just label the different functions and menu items with say, a different color, or an icon, depending on if you get that function in professional mode or standard mode, allowing you to explore both modes AT THE SAME TIME without having to close the document and switch from one mode to the other, just to decide which mode you need.
Is it worth $159? For me, it might not be… I’m on a pretty tight budget… but that’s a hell of a lot less than other comparable PDF editing software, so if you’re in the market for some professional PDF editing software, this might be the way to go.
Iceni does currently, as of this writing, have an offer whereby if you post a review of their software on your blog, they may elect to give you a free license… So that’s what I’m trying here. We’ll see how it goes. The only thing that puts me off about their free license offer is that they don’t stipulate in their terms and conditions any requirement that you reveal in your review that you’re writing the review in exchange for a free license… journalistic professionalism would require that anyone who is hoping to be compensated for their review by the maker of the software they are reviewing should reveal this in their review… I’m sure that many reviewers state this, but I’m sure that some don’t. Obviously Iceni is not trying to hide the fact that they offer a free license in exchange for reviews – the offer is posted directly on their web site – but I just think they should be a little more open about it by requiring that the person reviewing the software state that they are doing so in exchange for a free license.
Well I hope I get a free license for Infix out of this review. If not, I’ve got a friend who says he can get me Adobe editor for free… : – P Then I could do a side-by-side review/comparison.