Electronic Data Processing: Word Document vs. PDF

The use of electronic documents in the operation of any company is a perfect opportunity to reduce expenses on office supplies for printers and to speed up the exchange of information with affiliates and partners by means of sending files via the Internet. In this article we present you with a comparison of two most popular document formats used in modern document flow systems.

Word Document and PDF – old rivals

The format most frequently used for working with documents is Word Document (files with the extension .doc). This is the standard format of files created with the aid of the program Microsoft Word. Its popularity is completely determined by the popularity of this text processor. The history of the Word Document format began at the same time as the program Microsoft Word, which was at that time an ordinary editor for the creation of texts. Since then, each new version of Microsoft Word has brought with itself a new version of the format, which although not by very much, has all the same differed from the previous one. At the same time, Microsoft did not worry about backward compatibility. This means that a file, created and formatted with the latest version of the editor Word, could appear differently in all the previous incarnations.

Another aspect of the Word Document format is that it is closed. Word Document format was developed by Microsoft especially for use in its own text processor, and therefore, is proprietary. Specifications for the Word Document format are not listed. The only ones who have access to them are the official partners of Microsoft Corporation, as well as the governments of some nations. An exception is the specifications of the format for Microsoft Word 97 documents, which in 1998 were published in the contents of the Microsoft Office Development Office 97 Documentation. Because of its closed nature, it is very difficult to follow the development of the Word Document format. It is only known that for a long time, it underwent no radical changes, and only with Microsoft Office 2007 did there appear a new format of Word Document, based on the technology of XML.

Another widely distributed format for the storage of electronic documents is PDF (Portable Document Format). PDF was developed by Adobe Systems. It’s main purpose was to represent in electronic form any graphic product. It was first presented to the public in 1991, and in 1992 at the Comdex Fall exhibition it received the title «best of Comdex». Since then the PDF format has changed rather dramatically. In 1994, 1996, 1999 and 2001 new versions came out, each of which introduced the support of new functions, such as external links, article threads, device independent colors, color space CMYK, raster and overprint, ICC based colors, 2-byte CID fonts and many, many others.

The main differentiation of the PDF format is its device and platform independence. This means that any document of any format can be opened on a computer working under any operating system (with the aid of the corresponding software), and it will appear exactly the same as on the other computer on which it was created. This is the main advantage of PDF. Thanks to this format, documents of any type are much more practical, both for the creation of an electronic archive the for the internal use of a company, and for the exchange of information with partners and distant affiliates.

Electronic Data Processing: Word Document or PDF?

The whole process of working with electronic documents can be divided into three basic stages – creation, transmission (delivery to designated individuals, publications, etc.) and storage. For the first stage, the Word Document format has a definite advantage. The text processor Microsoft Word is the clear leader in the field of software used for the creation of documents, which is installed on practically every office computer. It is easy to use, possesses a wide range of functions, and, for all intents and purposes, has long ago transformed into the de facto standard. At the same time, fully featured editors for the creation of PDF files simply do not exist. Even professional versions of Adobe Acrobat allow you to make only minimal changes to an already existing document (for example, to fill out a form, add commentary, etc.). In other words, in order to receive a file in the PDF format, you need to create it first in any other format, and then after that convert it into PDF with the aid of some kind of software. Naturally, for the end user, this is not very convenient.

At the next stage, however, all the benefits turn out to be on the side of the PDF format. Let’s examine these in more detail.

The first benefit, of course, is platform independence. It is not important which computers are in the offices of your partners and which operating systems they are running. It is not important, what software is installed for reading PDF files. In any case, they will be able to view, and, if necessary, print documents in precisely the needed form. While using the Word Document format, it is better if both parties use the same version of software. Frankly speaking, the same problem with versions for reading format files applies to the PDF format as well. However, you need to take into account that this software is free. Therefore, a new version, if the need arises, can always be downloaded from the Internet.

A second advantage of PDF is that the software for viewing files saved in this format is free. Any person or any company can, absolutely free of charge, download the program Acrobat Reader from the Internet, and use if for working with electronic documents. This is especially convenient in the case of a one-way exchange of information.

A third advantage of the PDF format is that sending files to partners or clients is safe. The fact is, documents created by Microsoft Word often become the carriers of various viruses. In addition to this, it is sometimes necessary to use built-in defense against unauthorized access. In this regard, PDF has some advantage, insofar as its specifications were investigated by many independent software developers and experts in the field of information security, who confirmed the absence of vulnerabilities and backdoors.

PDF has yet another, fourth advantage. The PDF format is standardized by the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) for the archival storage of electronic documents and exchange of information between companies. In addition, the representatives of Adobe have announced that they plan on sending the specifications of the latest version of its format to the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM), which intends to promote it as the general international standard for the implementation of electronic data processing. If this takes place, which is highly likely, the use of PDF technology for electronic data processing will be institutionalized worldwide.

All these benefits of the PDF format are also relevant for the third stage of data processing, the storage of electronic documents. In such a way, a very interesting situation is apparent. On the one hand, it is best to create documents in the Word Document format. On the other hand, for sending and storing such documents, PDF is the most suitable format. It is possible, of course, to choose any other technology and come to terms with its disadvantages. However, it is better to use a combined data processing approach: create files in the Word Document format, and prior to sending them or submitting them to an archive, convert them into PDF. This allows one to enjoy all the pluses of both technologies and avoid their minuses. As a result, companies are often faced with the task of converting DOC files into the PDF format.

How Do You Convert Word Document into PDF? It’s Simple!

While solving the task of converting documents from the Word Document format into the PDF format at the corporate level, it is first of all necessary to take into account the convenience for the end users. This process should be maximally automated, so that an employee can accomplish it literally at the push of a button. An obvious example of such a solution is the product Universal Document Converter. Essentially, it is a virtual printer. This means that after installing this software, another “printing device” appears in the operating system. This device is accessible from any program, including Microsoft Word. Sending a document to this virtual printer, the user initiates a process of conversion. Such an approach minimizes the time spent by company employees on the conversion of files from the Word Document format into PDF, which in turn reduces the financial expenses of the company.

Sometimes for companies, the need arises for the massive conversion of documents from Word Document format into PDF format. One possible solution to such a task is to methodically open each file, one after another, and print them on the virtual printer. However, that is extremely inconvenient, and very time consuming. Therefore, to significantly speed up the process of mass conversion, it is possible to use any utility for package printing, such as the program PrintConductor. The principle of its operation is very simple. The user has only to indicate a list of documents that need to be printed, and the device on which this is to be accomplished. Naturally, the printer chosen will be the virtual printer Universal Document Converter, and as a result we receive the package conversion of files from the format Word Document in the PDF format.

In such a way, thanks to the inexpensive (the utility PrintConductor is free) and fully user-friendly software, any company can enjoy the benefits of the formats Word Document and PDF and avoid their disadvantages.

Arthur Rabatscher

Arthur Rabatscher

AR-Soft Widnau GmbH, Switzerland

«On a Delphi-Developer-Homepage we found an example how to convert Word- or Excel Documents into PDF. Within this source code the use of the OCX of the Universal Document Converter was shown. This was the easiest way, how we could convert all kinds of documents into the PDF Format.»