Sun PDF Import Extension

The Sun PDF Import Extension is one of the most popular extensions ever created. For the last two years, it has been near the top of the list of most popular downloads on the Extensions site -- and no wonder, considering that it is a free replacement for Adobe Acrobat, which is currently priced at $449US. However, the extension does have some quirks and limitations that you have to learn to work around.

The first quirk you have to overcome is obtaining it. To start with, you need to be running 3.0 or higher.

That is probably not a problem for most users, but finding a usable copy of the extension may be. When you click the Get it! button on the extensions site, the link takes you to a page about Oracle Open Office, the successor to Sun Microsystems's Star Office. This page mentions the PDF Import Extension, but provides no downloads.

To download the extension, you need to be alert when your browser switches to the page that thanks you for downloading, and choose a manual download before you can get the file.

Even then, to judge from the comments on the extensions page (and my own experience), you may have trouble using the extension after you install it from Tools -> Extension Manager. The easiest way to get the extension is to check your distribution's repository to see if it is included as a package, as in Debian.

You will know if you have succeeded in installing if you try to open an PDF file and it displays in Draw.

By contrast, if you get a few characters of gibberish, you need to keep searching for another way of getting the extension. You might be able to find an alternative download site with an earlier version that you can use. Don't worry if the version number is far below the 1.01 release mentioned on the extension page; the version numbers took a huge, unwarranted leap, and (so far as I can tell) a .4x version will not be much different in functionality from the 1.01 release.

Using the extension

Once you have the Sun PDF Import Extension installed, you need to know its limitations. Unfortunately, it's a mixture of good and bad news.

The good news is that the extension works extremely well with text, preserving all types of formatting including font size, bold, italics, strike-through and underlining. Fonts, too are preserved, although their names are not always parsed correctly and may have a few additional characters at the end of them. Should the fonts not be available on your system, the extension tries to replace them with a font whose characters are metrically equivalent. The positioning, too, of text, is maintained in all-text documents, so that a brochure that has text scattered over the page is imported as accurately as a white paper that is a solid block of paragraphs.

The extension places each line of text in a separate text frame. Each fragment of a line separate by a tab or spacing is also placed in a separate text frame. This arrangement means that you can easily correct typos, or add a few words if the line is short. Add much more, and you will throw off the line spacing in the document. You can, of course, add your text frames, but you will have to work carefully not to interfere with the line spacing or the bottom margin -- to say nothing of moving every line carefully downwards. Still, the effort may be worthwhile if you need to edit or recover an important document.

Another problem is that true Adobe forms and graphics are not imported at all. At the most, you will have only their frames, and, at times, especially with PNG graphics, the positioning of text will be thrown off by the missing elements. In these cases, if you want to include the forms or graphics included in a PDF made outside of, then you will have to capture them and insert them manually into the Draw document.

If you import a PDF created within, you may be able to import forms and graphics -- providing that you set the PDF to Hybrid format when you exported the file. A Hybrid PDF combines Acrobat and Open Document formats. A PDF reader like Adobe Acrobat that cannot parse Open Document Format will simply ignore it, but, when you come to import the file into for editing, the forms and graphics will be imported along with the text. The cost of using Hybrid format is that your files will be an average of about 20% larger, but that is a relatively small price to pay for the convenience of the kludge.

Finally, when you are finished editing, remember not to save the file, but to use File -> Export to PDF instead.

The extension's future

Sun PDF Import Extension is not the most elegant solution available, but it does an ingenious job of working with existing features, and obviously fills a need that many people have.

That is why free desktop users should be disturbed that Oracle, the new custodian of the extension, is not making it available for downloading. Not only is this situation a possible violation of the extension's licensing, but, although the source code is available, I have yet to hear of anyone stepping up to maintain the extension for the general community.

A real possibility exists that, a few versions from now, Sun PDF Import Extension will no longer be available. If that happens, one of's major advantages will be lost -- and that would be inexcusable.

Let's hope that someone -- either Oracle or some concerned coders -- keep Sun PDF Import Extension going. Despite its rough edges, it is considerably better than nothing.

Note: This is one of my last columns on After six years of writing these columns, I am starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel. However, sometime in the next few months, I will be starting another series of columns about using major applications on the free desktop.

If you have any topic that I haven't covered, or any suggestions for which application to discuss first, please add your suggestion in a comment below.


-- Bruce Byfield (nanday)


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Sun PDF Import Extension

Richard Fisker's picture

Your article implies that it is difficult to download the Sun PDF Import Extension - well I just went, clicked on the download tab, then on "Get Open Office Extensions" and there I searched for "PDF" and the Sun PDF Import Extension was top of the list, clicked on that & downloaded it, then installed it ( 3.2.0 running on OpenSUSE 10.3 x86) and seems to work - I could make simple changes to a pdf and export them out to a new pdf file.

I guess the issue may be in the future when is developedfurther will anyone be able to ensure that the PDF import extension continue to work, but that can be an issue with any extension ...


OpenOffice for online use

Anonymous's picture

What's the situation of a server as a part of Oo, so that one can use it online if installed on another computer ? This would be a very important function.


jza's picture

There are many services that give you this from nomachine to Ulteo.

Linuxer, Rapper, and part time lunatic
Living in the sandy beaches of Cancun

Oracle closing off OpenOffice

Anonymous's picture

I am in an office right now with a visiting Sun/Oracle sales guy sitting next to me and he tells me Oracle is closing off development and stopping any continued development/distribution support for OpenOffice. So to me that sounds like a REALLY big problem for FOSS on the desktop.

Is that true?

Andrew Yeomans's picture

That's always a risk, but I suggest you ask your sales guy why than are Oracle are actively selling software and support packages. Doesn't sound like they are stopping support to me.

Actually there are a couple things I'm interested in

mxyzptlk's picture

I don't know if you've written about this yet or not, and I'll go back and check, but I'd like a run-down on using OpenOffice to make fillable forms. One thing I attempted while teaching a summer course was making essay outliners out of fillable forms, and it was a hackneyed process by which I duck-taped a little OpenOffice, a little Scribus, and some Acrobat Pro when I needed to make the forms savable or tweak something. If there was a way to do that entirely in OpenOffice -- to make the forms fillable and savable -- I'd love to learn it.

Another problem I ran into last year and haven't had a chance to follow up on is tweaking the source code to make the comments fonts smaller. I teach at a university, and one thing that is increasingly common is we grade essays electronically. Students generally send us essays in MS Word's .doc or .docx format, and we make suggestions, comments, etc. using the Comments feature. The problem is the comments in Word are nice and small and tidy, so we can get plenty of comments in on a page. The comments feature in OpenOffice seems set at a default DejaVu Sans 10pt, which is just difficult to manage -- especially when numerous or long comments are required.

I know there's a way t tweak the size, and I know where in the code it needs to be tweaked. I'm just not sure how to do the actual tweak and recompile to make it work, especially with the standard version that comes via the repositories (Debian/Ubuntu).

So there are my two OpenOffice article requests: How to make fillable and savable forms, and how to tweak the size of the font in comments.

ooh oooh ooh ask me ask me!!!

Greg Laden's picture

I have an idea for a series of columns. How to emulate OpenOffice using emacs!!!

But seriously, when I write on my blog about OpenOffice, I tend to focus my attention on the needs of teachers. Teachers are people who have no money but still have to do all the stuff everyone else does.

A few posts focusing on either teacher related uses or deployment in an educational (K-12) IT environment.

OOo4Kids and OOo templates

jza's picture

There is a good template collection on OOo templates to be used on K-12 also you might want to check out OOo4Kids.

Linuxer, Rapper, and part time lunatic
Living in the sandy beaches of Cancun

interested items

Anonymous's picture

pls input this URL:

you can find many cheap and fashion stuff

Didn't notice any download issues..

Andrew Yeomans's picture

..when I used the extension manager to get the extension.

The "additional information" page, however, did link to the Oracle pages where you can buy Oracle Open Office for £33. There's also a "Download" link that points you back to the extensions pages.

I wouldn't worry too much

Dan Brewer's picture

I wouldn't worry too much about the demise of this plugin. Inkscape does a brilliant job with all kinds of PDFs.

Inkscape with PDFs

MinnesotaJon's picture

Inkscape's only major limitation with .pdf files is the fact that Inkscape can only handle 1 page at a time. When loading a multipage .pdf, it lets you select the page to work on. All of the .pdf pages you work on in Inkscape have to saved separately. However, you can merge them all back together afterward.

When I'm working with Inkscape on multipage .pdf files, I find that the program PDF-Shuffler is the most efficient and clearly organized program for merging, splitting and re-arranging pages in .pdf format. It's available in the repositories.