PDF Usability And The Web: Is The Format Still “Unfit For Human Consumption”?

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There has always been a well-documented love-hate relationship between users and the PDF format. You either love it when things go right or hate it when it doesn’t co-operate.

Yet for better or worse, the PDF document is in our daily lives.We convert and create PDFs, always emailing and reading them no matter how much we may complain about the format.

But think about what it was like before. Back in 2003, authoritative web usability guru, Jakob Nielsen, criticized the usability of the PDF on the web in his article PDF: Unfit for Human Consumption, in which he catalogs what he calls  the format’s “usability crimes.”

If you were an early PDF adopter in the late 90’s or early 2000’s, then you could probably relate very strongly to the article.  But would you still agree with it after more than 10 years? Probably not. You can’t deny the format’s improvement since then.

Despite the misgivings we have about the PDF, we can’t do without it. Because of large scale adoption, ISO standardization, and third party tools, the PDF format is a heck of a lot easier to work with. But it’s also due in large part, to the Internet itself and how it’s been shaping our user habits.

The State Of Our Online Behaviour

Today we live in a highly technological world that co-exists hand in hand with the Internet. And whether we like it or not, our compulsion to stay connected online greatly influences our need to edit and work with documents on the web, including ones that weren’t meant to be edited.

We connect and communicate online.  Blogs, social media, and forums are endlessly engaged in discussion. Social networks are highly public, yet personal.  We need to access and do things online, to create an individual work space which we can control.

Connecting With The Internet
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It’s no surprise then that because of this necessity, the digital documents we use daily are following this trend.  Our files have become part of the interactive and streamlined user experience.

Developers have been giving digital documents like the PDF a lot of integrated support.  Online app services like GoogleDrive, for instance, allow us to upload PDF documents for viewing, commenting, and sharing, all with a simple URL.  Desktop tools are also extending document sharing to real time collaboration over the web.

We can log in from anywhere and check in with our files on-screen.  Whether a professional on a tablet or a student enrolled in an online class, we can always connect with PDF contracts and research papers.  And on top of this, we can read and download PDF ebooks from the web onto our mobile devices.

Using The Internet As A PDF Tool

Let’s not forget that Google has been able to index PDF files since 2001. Since then, the popularity of PDFs online has grown to such an extent that by 2013, 80% of non-html documents posted online were PDF files.

Admittedly, web browsers back in 2003 didn’t support PDF viewing very well.  However, browsers like Chrome and Firefox have begun including native PDF viewers. Add to that the ability to create a PDF for fast web viewing and your PDF documents are easier to go through than ever.

What’s interesting to note is that this online PDF viewing and sharing has gradually changed the role of the format itself.  Before, the PDF was considered only a final print format. But thanks to online services and advanced PDF creation and editing tools, it can be manipulated at any point in the workflow.

PDF In Document Workflows

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Consider how and when you’ve used online converters and web apps, or social networks and document search engines for a PDF. What did they do to help you with the file? Given the right utilities and extensions, we can interact with PDFs in our browser or annotate, highlight, and merge them instantly.

Truth is, it isn’t as hard to work with PDF files online as it used to be. In fact, presenting PDF content online is now perhaps the most basic thing you can do.

But what do you think? Is the PDF still hard for you to consume online–viewing, handling, or otherwise? It seems that with the way the Internet and the format are developing, there’s no better time to be a PDF user than now.

AutoCAD Tip: Recover Vector Graphics and Text Locked in PDF

As a professional AutoCAD designer, you can deal with any number of CAD drawings on a daily basis that need your attention.  Yet the review process might not always be in an easy, straightforward manner.

The work process is always a collaborative one, and chances are that the people you deal with do not have AutoCAD but some other CAD application that is not able to read AutoCAD’s native DWG format.

To help bridge that gap, professional drafters and designers have, for the most part, resorted to a secondary, more reliable alternative:  the PDF format. You and your clients or colleagues may both be transmitting CAD drawings via PDF to collaborate back and forth on them.

AutoCAD PDF in Able2Extract

Whether these CAD drawings are complex floor plans newly converted to PDF or older archived product designs, the format ensures that both of you can see those CAD drawings as intended, uncompromised.

Yet further on in the workflow, these CAD designs will need modifications, corrections or adjustments before any design plan is finalized.  However, the PDF is a locked down format that makes those vector graphics and text uneditable. You would have to convert the PDF file to a format in order to make any improvements or edits on it.

Able2Extract: PDF to AutoCAD Converter

Our Able2Extract PDF converter is a tool which can accomplish that. As a PDF utility, it is a swiss army knife of PDF converters. It can convert PDF data into more than 10 different formats—AutoCAD included. With it, you can recover vector graphics and text that are locked in PDF.

Though dealing with CAD files may be complex, the conversion method is simplified down to 4 steps:

1. Open the PDF in Able2Extract

Open File Command

2. Select the graphics and text you need to convert with the All or Area selection commands

Selecting content

3. Click on the AutoCAD icon on the command toolbar.

Converting PDF to AutoCAD

Able2Extract will then let you customize your output.  When you select the PDF to AutoCAD conversion command, you are presented with these CAD specific settings:

Able2Extract AutoCAD Conversion Options

You can select DWG (or DXF, if needed) as your conversion output, adjust the color palette, unit measurements, polyline width, and insertion point.  You will also be able to keep those same conversion settings as a default if needed.

4. Click on Convert and save your file to your computer.

Once the conversion is done, you can make any required edits to the recovered vector graphics and text in AutoCAD, continuing on with the review and drafting process.  As an intermediary software program, Able2Extract extracts your CAD content into layers you can easily work with.

Able2Extract PDF Converter is compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux (Ubuntu and Fedora) platforms. You can test Able2Extract’s PDF to AutoCAD conversion feature with the 7-day free trial. A full version license can be purchased from our website, as well,  for $99.95 or you can opt for the more flexible 30-day subscription for $34.95.

3 Tips On How To Use Excel For Calculating Taxes From PDF Data

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Tax season rolls around every year and with it comes the head ache of getting organized. It means digging up year old statements and revisiting your ledgers, which is a daunting task in itself. Even worse, if you’re a procrastinator, it may mean the added stress of finding walk-in tax centres booked solid, forcing you to take the DIY approach.

Admittedly, doing taxes yourself can be risky. But user-friendly tax software and speedy e-filing methods are incentive enough to make the attempt. Getting the numbers right is what matters most.  For that, there’s Microsoft Excel, one of the handiest tools for calculating and dealing with complex data.

If it’s your first time doing your taxes online, we’ve got a few important pointers that can make working with taxes and Excel easier for you.

1. Insert, Adjust And Calculate Your Tax Data In Spreadsheets 

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First off, to calculate your income taxes, you first need to calculate your taxable income. To do this, convert your financial data into Excel so you can work in your applicable deductions, credits, and exclusions using Excel formulas and functions. They can seem scary and complicated, but once you get the hang of them, they are invaluable!

Second, because all invoices and tax deductible receipts are different, you want to ensure that your converted data is properly adjusted and laid out.  If you’re calculating your federal income tax using tables in Excel, your results depend on where the data is placed. Thus, correctly inserting disparate data from the start will help prevent major calculation errors.

Able2Extract Excel Preview Panel A custom PDF to Excel conversion though can fix the alignment of cells and their data just where you need them. Able2Extract lets you manually move the row and column lines and even give you a preview of how the data will look in your spreadsheet.

2. Use Separate Worksheets For Data Calculations

Every tax filing is different and depending on your situation you may need to use supplemental tax forms and schedules. You may also need other tools, like updated tax tables or the tax computation worksheet from the 1040 US tax return instructions.  So consolidating your data where needed can be an efficient way to stay organized.

Excel Worksheet Names

Every tax form, calculation, or schedule requires special attention. Consequently, you may want to use separate worksheets for different schedules or forms. This way you can set each one up with defined formulas for calculating specific data.

This has a lot of convenient benefits. Each year, you can go back to the same worksheet and just drop your updated numbers in. If you need numbers from different PDF statements, you can convert the relevant data into the same worksheet using Able2Extract.

Able2Extract Custom Excel TemplateMoreover, its custom Excel template feature, you can set up your Excel conversion once, save it as a template (seen above), and use it on next year’s PDF statements, which, more than likely, will be formatted with the same layout.

3. Keep Data Formatting Consistent 

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If you use different Excel formatting due to language and cultural preferences (commas for decimals or pound signs instead of dollar signs, for instance), you should make sure that all notations are consistent to avoid misinterpretation. Fortunately, Microsoft Excel is highly specialized in formatting and manipulating data.

To fix the formatting in Excel, you can use the Sort & Filter and Data Tools section in the Data tab or the Numbers and Editing sections in the Home tab.  To do this even more efficiently, reformat your PDF data even before it even reaches the spreadsheet. With PDF receipts and records, you can change the notation and formatting during the PDF to Excel conversion.  

Able2Extract Excel Conversion Parameters

Using the MS Excel conversion parameters in Able2Extract will adjust your data to fit the format you want to use in your spreadsheet, like whether or not to replicate the fonts from the PDF. Retain the dollar sign as a separate symbol, use European continental settings, or treat rows as columns and vice versa.

The Truth Behind 4 Common PDF Facts

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Although the PDF is now a common digital format in almost all aspects of our habits online (sharing, downloading, and emailing), there is still a lot about the PDF format that we tend to gloss over and generalize.

Whether you know it or not, a lot of general facts about the PDF format are usually taken out of context or misunderstood altogether.  The PDF format is constantly improving and changing.  Thus, what we know about the format has to change as well if we are to use the format effectively.

That being said, here are a few brief clarifications on the most common PDF facts we all know.

Everyone Can View And Access PDF Files

When we say that PDF files can be viewed by everyone and on every platform, what we don’t often mention is that there are exceptions.  More specifically, if your file recipients have visual impairments or physical disabilities, reading and navigating your PDF content with a mouse is next to impossible for them.

PDFs that can truly be viewed by everyone—including users with disabilities, are accessible PDF documents that are tagged.  A structurally tagged PDF can work with assistive devices like screen readers, allowing users to have PDFs read out loud to them.  To ensure your PDF is up to par, consult the PDF/UA standard which provides an official guideline on how to generate PDFs that everyone can access.

PDF Content Can’t Be Edited Or Modified 

A true fact, but there are two sides to this. First and foremost, PDFs are meant to ensure that its content stays intact. It’s a locked down format that protects against unwanted modification.  But if you ever tried, then you know that you can perform some edits to a PDF to a certain extent if you have the right PDF tool or if the assigned PDF permissions allow.

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For example, you can modify PDF files:  extract pages, merge or split PDFs, edit PDF metadata, add bookmarks or even headers and footers.  In other cases, you can add digital signatures, fill out PDF forms, add annotations, and notes. Also, if allowed, basic text copying should be done via PDF tools to prevent formatting issues.  Though for legit and drastic edits or content re-purposing, you’re better off performing full PDF conversions instead. PDF content itself isn’t meant to be freely edited like a Word document, but you can take some liberties.

PDF Files Can Only Contain Text And Images

Because the format is generally known as a file format to use for professional purposes, there’s this assumption that PDFs are boring, that they can only be used for text and images. Nothing can be further from the truth.

They’re actually great containers for compelling content.  In fact, though usually advised against for the sake of file sizes, multimedia PDF files are perfect for promotional material or e-brochures. They can include animations, audio, video, and even interactive elements. So next time you need something creative, you can add the PDF format to your list of tools. With a bit of creativity and the right media, you can improve your content ten- fold.

PDF Files Are Naturally Secure

Because the PDF format adds a layer of security over your content, we usually tend to think that it’s automatically impenetrable.  But if you quickly publish a PDF on the web thinking your content is protected against plagiarism, think again.  If indexed by Google, users can select the “View as HTML” option or click to view it in a browser with a built-in PDF viewer, like Firefox. Your content is then up for grabs.

Securing Technology

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To prevent that from happening, always add advanced security options on content you want to share, but keep control over. Include encryption, watermarks and even PDF passwords so you can specify exactly what users can or cannot do with the file. Remember, your PDF file is only as secure as you make it.

Were you already aware of the fine print behind these major PDF facts? What are some others you’ve come across?

 

5 Creative Ways To Search The Web

Web Search Tips

Searching the web on Google is always the number one go-to solution for finding help online. And although its last update (aka Hummingbird) focused on a smarter way of finding results, it is still possible (and frustrating) to go beyond the third page of your search results. Not a very valuable use of your time.

As productivity advocates, we’re always looking for more efficient ways of doing things—even searching the web.  So for this post we’ll break down some quick basic tips (some of which you may already be doing) when you’re ready to give up on Google.

1. Use Content Specific Search Engines

Helpful when….: You’re looking for a specific type of format.

Why: Google offers a number of search results based on type: news, web pages, images, and file formats. Although Google operators can produce results right down to the file format, there are search engines that can offer efficient searches.

Search Benefits: Content specific search engines will give you a highly focused collection of results in contrast to the endless pages of results from Google. Moreover, they come equipped with search filters that further narrow down your hunt.

Tools: There are a number of handy online tools that can help you search for PDF documents, PowerPoint presentations online, or archived webpages. Also, you can find search tools for photos and even third party tools for searching through Flickr.

2. Search By Finding Similar Sites

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Helpful when…: You want to familiarize yourself with a new subject, genre or field.

Why: When you want to learn about something, you’re first step is to find information on the topic and then find websites that cover the subject. If you’re looking for sites on something like fitness, seeking out influential websites in the industry will give you the lay of the land, connecting you to other authoritative sources in that niche.

Search Benefits: When you search like this, your results are pared down to highly related sites instead having to sift through individual articles and web pages.

Tools: Similarsites.com and SimilarWeb.com are a couple of tools that can help you with this type of search. They’re designed to work with thousands of sites that have already been indexed and rated on relevancy by users.

3. Search For Answers By Asking Users

Helpful when….: You have specific questions or only have broad ideas.

Why: When you have a general question your first instinct is to type it out in Google and see what comes up. But when asking a question, you’re looking for general guidance first (“What can I find on this topic?”) or specific information (computer and hardware specs). A better way to finding results is in asking directly in forums, communities, and groups.

Search Benefits: Users in communities and forums can give you one-on-one advice. This beats having to refer to 5 articles on one topic. In addition, you get answers, insights, and hidden details based from personal experience which some general posts may miss.

Tools: Try communities that are active and that attract credible users. Try sites like Quora, for instance, where you get to ask professionals from different industries for their expertise. There are also Google+ communities full of users who are generous with their time and help. Start off with a forum directory like Zetaboards.com to find the right forum for you.

4. Use Social Media, Aggregators & Real Time Search

 Social Media Search

Helpful when…:  You want quick, updated information on a topic.

Why: The power of social media is hard to deny. On social media networks, everyone is sharing a link, comment, or insight on anything and everything–including posts on the topic you’re researching.

Search Benefits: Social networks are extremely powerful with their search features. Searches on popular networks like Google+, Facebook, and Twitter are easily tailored to find posts, users, or hashtags. Using these networks as your search engine, you can zero in on real time posts. In addition, you can get a contextual grasp on any given topic at the moment based on the sentiments of the posters.

Tools: Besides using the social networks themselves, social media aggregators and real time search engines can help. Tools like Alltop, PopURLS,and  SocialMention, will offer you a quick bird’s eye view of current trends. Just type in your search terms and you’re off.

5. Use Websites & Blogs

Helpful when…: You need to find related resources.

Why: When you’re online, you may already have a natural compulsion to click through to other sites from an article you’re reading. Because blogs and websites link out to sites and sources that complement their own content, you can slowly build up a good resource.

Search Benefits: When you consciously practice this as a search method, it could mean that if you start with one quality web site you can find 5 other links that may be helpful. Granted, there are some spammy sites out there. But given that Google has cracked down on bad linking behaviour and has encouraged websites to link to relevant sources in their blog rolls, this type of search method should be a safe bet.

Tools: To find a good quality site to start you off, visit Technorati, the most credible blog directory online.

As an added bonus, you can combine these tips to get even better results. So while Google is the number one tool when it comes to search,  it isn’t the only one you have to resort to!