Acrobat and its alternatives: 4 ways to edit PDFs

Which are the best, and cheapest, ways to edit your PDF documents?

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Nuance PDF Converter Professional 7

Nuance Communications, the maker of PDF Converter Professional 7, is known best for its speech-recognition software, Dragon. PDF Converter uses editing tools that are nearly identical to those used in Adobe Acrobat.

User interface: As is the case with the other PDF editors in this roundup, side panels accompany the document in the application's main viewing area: panels on the right side help you do things like sign the document digitally, set passwords for it and embed watermarks into it. A panel on the left lets you quickly navigate through the document's elements, such as its bookmarks, thumbnails of its pages and tags.

Working with PDFs: Nuance's method of editing text in a PDF document is nearly identical to Acrobat's: You select a tool called Touchup Text and then you click the cursor on a spot in a row of words where you wish to enter new text, or you highlight words or letters you want to replace. Then you just type, and the new text will either be inserted at the point where the cursor is positioned or it will replace the text you highlighted.

Like Foxit and Nitro, Nuance lets you alter the height, width and orientation of a row of text, and the height and the width can be changed independently of each other.

However, while the other two applications use the same tool to edit and manipulate text, Nuance uses one tool, Touchup Text, to edit text and a different tool, Touchup Object, to manipulate blocks of text. It looks identical to Nitro's editing tool: Selected text is surrounded by a frame marked by eight anchor points, which you click on and drag to stretch or shrink the text row's height and width. A ninth anchor above the frame lets you rotate the row clockwise or counterclockwise.

Even though Nuance (and Acrobat) separate the chores of editing text and manipulating it, I didn't necessarily find this inconvenient. In some ways, it helped make things clearer in my mind as to what exactly I wanted to do with the text (edit it or move it).

What works well: What makes Nuance different from the other three editors is that it lets you split your view of a document in the main window into two or four panels. Within each, you can scroll through and work on different areas of the same page. This feature can be useful if you need to work on a document with unusually large pages.

What needs fixing: When you do load more than one document into Nuance, the program runs another window of itself -- so if you open three documents, you'll have three instances of the Nuance application running. Cutting and pasting text and graphics among multiple, open documents can feel like a juggling act, compared to Nitro's more efficient tabbed user interface.

Bottom line: Nuance is a good low-cost version of Acrobat, and the split-screen view of your PDF can be helpful if you need to work on a document that has several pages.


Adobe Acrobat X Standard is a premium product that works well, but its price makes it hard to justify if all you need to do is simply edit a few PDFs now and then.

Nuance PDF Converter Professional 7 works well; it's basically a low-cost clone of Adobe's software with the addition of a split-screen viewing feature. However, it's awkward to work with when you're dealing with more than one document.

I was initially partial to Foxit -- the great reputation of the company's PDF reader and its surprisingly small installation file size were strong factors in its favor. But Foxit turns out to be a bare-bones application when you compare its features with Nuance's and Nitro's, and I wasn't fond of its indirect way of letting you edit text. If it cost less, then it would be a far more competitive choice.

So I have to give the nod to Nitro PDF Professional 6. For the same price as Foxit and Nuance, it's a nice balance between the editing tools of Acrobat and Nuance and the speed of Foxit. It has the most efficient user interface -- thanks to the fact that it uses browserlike tabs -- when it comes to editing text and manipulating images, especially when you need to cut and paste among multiple documents opened at the same time. And its use of an interface identical to that of Microsoft Office's ribbon interface means it can mesh well with your workflow, particularly if you are already using the latest versions of Office.

In the end, the tabs win.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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