Friday, July 16, 2010

PDF World

Well, as I delve deeper into my early research career, I have noticed my fondness of using open source software more frequently. I have already posted about Ubuntu and Wubi and about the frustrations of using Word with EndNote or Mathtype. Mendeley Desktop seems to be the best citation/source organization software which you can upgrade for more space and shared collections starting at $4.99 a month. I plan to explore Latex here in the next few weeks and want/plan on using it for my PhD thesis. Latex seems to be the best documentation software for large documents with lots of equations/graphics/etc. Also, you have the freedom to pretty much do whatever you want, especially with the layout. You are not restricted to certain rules that Word employs.

So this post is about the familiar and useful document form called PDF. When I hear PDF I automatically think Adobe Acrobat. Adobe is probably the leader in PDF software, but they do not own the PDF name. There are plenty of free readers out there including Adobe's Reader and the one I am currently using Foxit. Both of these software allow you to do basic stuff such as opening a PDF file and some editing. I know Foxit will allow highlighting, comments, notes, arrows, etc. with their free version. Of course when you use these features Foxit places a watermark on the page which is no big deal for me since I am using these features for personal research purposes obly. I don't need to print them out, and the watermark does not affect any major function. This is great news for those of us who only need PDF software for simple things as these.

If you need more features I would consider buying the software which there are plenty of choices and the price isn't too bad (from around $20 to $100 or more). I would also look into your school to see if they have licensed versions and/or discounts for students and faculty. There are usually student versions available at a large discount which contain most needed features too.

Anyways, we sometimes need a few more features such as deleting pages, rotating certain pages, combined PDFs into one document, rearranging pages, splitting a PDF into several separate PDFs, creating PDFs, etc. I have googled and searched thinking to myself that surely there is some free software that someone has kindly taken their time to develop that would do these things. (Down with tha man!!) Because unfortunately Foxit only rotates every page in the document, and you cannot save it at its rotated position. I am not sure about Adobe Reader or any other free reader.

Upon browsing the www, I did stumble across a somewhatofa PDF edior. (Here is one of the forum discussions where I found some ideas

(oh, and sont click on the docq link, it seemed kinda fishy)

This software is called PDFTK Builder, and it is absolutely free. Another bonus is that this software has a GUI for us programming challeged people because there is the orginal PDF toolkit builder that is programming based)!!

This PDF toolkit is great. It allows you to combine PDFs, rotate pages, and much more. I will update as I figure out more. I just combined two PDFs with ease!

So my point here is not to convert everyone to open source software but to be open minded and available to many platforms. It is great to know the most common software such as Adobe, Microsoft Office, Windows, etc, but it would be well worth investing time into to some other versions such as Mac OS, Linux, Latex, etc. Imagine a future employer or collaborator asking if you know how to use such and such software in an interview or meeting and/or being able to put a multitude of knowing various software. This, IMO, is a great self promoting/marketing tool. Also, it would be nice if a collaborator began a research project in a certain program suite which you could pick up easily or would already be somewhat familiar or even an expert in so as to avoid much repetition or frustration. However, all of this is not necessary just a suggestion and my experience because one could quite possibly run into a pitfall of trying to learn too much and spreading oneself too thin. Just take your time and experiment with all sorts of programs.

As for future post, I plan to cover some more in Mendeley now that I have been using it for a few weeks. I also plan to cover LinkedIn, a professional "facebook" type networking tool. A few other things that I would like to cover are my experience with Latex and an Ubuntu update. as well as OpenOffice, Google Documents, and drawing programs such as Google SketchUp.

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