Some people like the Portable Document Format (PDF) and some are not great fans. The certainty is that at some point you will come across one to read. Not a problem because there are some good PDF readers around. Foxit Reader, Nitro PDF, SumatraPDF to name a few, and that’s assuming you don’t want to use Adobe Reader. If you want to edit or alter a PDF file, a popular way of doing it is to convert the document into Microsoft Word format and then do your editing from there.
There are a few tools around to convert PDF documents to Word or plain text but quite a few are either shareware or not great at the conversion with the results being unsatisfactory. A freeware utility called First PDF aims to make converting from PDF to other formats an easy and painless task. Apart from the Word document conversion, it can also convert to plain text. Something else First PDF can do is convert the document into a variety of image formats which is very useful if you just want to keep a few pages from a large document or place some pages onto a web page.
The program claims to be able to keep just about all of the formatting from the PDF during conversion, something that often hinders this type of software. Apart from the obvious of including images, it can also handle tables, fonts, paragraphs, bullet lists, font face, color and size, hyperlinks, PDF forms, edit boxes, radio buttons, stylesheets and background colors are all transferred keeping the output format as close to the original as possible.
First PDF is freeware and downloads as a zip file but the program is not portable and has to be installed.
The interface is certainly nice looking and clean making the whole process very easy. The PDF documents are loaded by pressing the ‘Select PDF‘ button or dragging and dropping onto the window, multiple selections are supported. The preview of the selected document appears on the right and can be switched off using the tick box. The pages of the PDF can be navigated in the preview using the arrows. I have found here that if you have several pages, maybe 100+, then make sure not to press the navigation arrows too quickly, let the next page load first or the program will freeze for a short period while finding the correct page. The output folder or filename is changed using the ‘Browse‘ button.
The different output formats are changed using the ‘PDF to Word‘ or ‘PDF to Images‘ buttons at the top of the window. The Word section simply offers two radio buttons for ‘Word‘ or ‘Text‘ output. The Images section gives you a dropdown box where you can choose between Png, Jpeg, Gif, Bmp, Tiff or Multi-P Tiff. The DPI can also be set to a higher or lower level to alter the output quality.
When you are ready, click the rather hard to spot ‘GO‘ button…
Overall I would say the conversion was pretty accurate although the odd Word file had a slight formatting or font size glitch now and again, but nothing serious. A couple of things I did notice though was the conversion did seem to take quite a while. An 8MB manual with 156 pages for my TV took a while even on an i7 processor and when the same was done on a single core CPU the program behaved like it was frozen for a few minutes during the conversion. Do bear this in mind and let it finish if it happens to you. Another thing noted was the very erratic memory usage. Using the same PDF as above doing two conversions in a row the RAM being used went through the roof and topped out over 1GB!
I will point out that this version is the initial release of First PDF so issues like those I have highlighted are possibly to be expected with such a new program. The developer SautinSoft will hopefully iron out the bugs and niggles in the near future because First PDF on the whole does a good job at PDF converting.
If you feel like waiting for First PDF to mature a little bit before trying it out, there is also an Online Converter which does the same thing as the program and is useful for perhaps converting smaller files. Requires .Net Framework 2.0 or above. Compatible with Windows XP SP2+, 2003, 2008, Vista and Windows 7.