Free is Good - but is it worth it?

FREE IS GOOD – but is it WORTH IT?

I was talking with a client last week about using Office 2007’s Save-as-PDF function. Its free to use – so why not? Good question.

The Save-as-PDF Office 2007 (MS07-PDF) plug-in is in the category of several free PDF conversion tools – and if you only need to create a PDF these options may be an alternative. But there are some important considerations and I encourage you to text extensively.

1) Lets start with metadata. Know that the MS07-PDF plug-in has a setting to include / exclude File Properties metadata in the output PDF. This option is defaulted “ON” (checked) in MS Word but users can uncheck the setting once and it stays off. Applications like pdfDocs naturally do NOT INCLUDE this metadata.

2) The MS07-PDF plug-in only works with Office 2007. This is fine if that’s that the only document source you need to convert. But there are many instances when you want to convert scanned content, web pages, and much more, so this may be a serious limitation.

3) As a point of interest, the Microsoft Office plug-in directly converts the source-file to PDF format – and does NOT use a file-print-stream process. Most PDF conversion tools use a File-Print method of capturing and converting output, and this makes it entirely universal (works from any application that can “print”).

Directly converting using the MS07-PDF plug-in may have implications for metadata that converters using File-Print avoid entirely. This is something for you to confirm directly with Microsoft or through your own testing, but be aware that File-Print methods of conversion cannot capture internal metadata from any source document.

4) Last but not least - some of the biggest drawbacks of the MS07-PDF plug-in revolve around workflow and content security. A few examples:

A) The MS07-PDF plug in does not give user any way to control PDF attributes like security, watermarking, and headers-footers. With pdfDocs Desktop, users can be prompted to change these and other attributes (or these attributes can be pre-configured) as part of saving an MS-Office document (any version) as a PDF.

B) The MS07-PDF plug in doesn’t provide users with advanced tools for Bates, Redaction, Splitting, Combining etc.. but this may be where a full-featured PDF solution is used for users with these requirements.

C) The MS07-PDF plug in doesn’t integrate with legal document management systems (that I’m aware of). The result is that users save new PDFs locally – probably in \My Documents. This should be a significant concern to law firms who spend $1000s to assure their documents are managed and secured within a document management system.

Once the user saves a copy of the PDF to \My Documents for the purpose of a workflow like emailing-to-client, you’ve lost control of the content. Be sure your records manager is aware of this workflow.

A solution like pdfDocs assures that every new PDF is managed just like all the other content in your law firm.

D) There is also the issue of housekeeping, cleaning up all of these PDF files where were not created for the purpose of residing in \My Documents, but were created as part of a workflow (emailing / filing / binding). Law firm PDF content solutions should “clean up” after themselves and avoid creating “stray” temporary documents in the first place. pdfDocs architecture is a good example of how this can work really well.

Free is good – but you get what you pay for. Know the limitations and how best to use save-as-PDF, and test (and test some more).

The Editor