extendedPDF: Professional PDF controls for OpenOffice.org

In early versions of OpenOffice.org, exporting to PDF required setting up a printer driver and offered few options. PDF export is vastly improved since version 2.0, since it is built-in and offers some control over the degree of image compression, the initial view, and user interface. However, even these controls are basic. They are certainly far behind the desktop tools available for Adobe Acrobat in Windows and OS X. For this reason, extendedPDF is an essential tool for those who need fine-control over their PDF output from OpenOffice.org in GNU/Linux.

extendedPDF was originally written as a macro. More recently, it has been converted to an add-on, installable by downloading and unzipping the files from the 3BView web site, then using Tools > Package Manager to install it. The add-on depends on Ghostscript, which almost all distributions install by default, and a postscript printer driver. (You don't actually need the printer, just the driver, since you will be printing the PDF to file anyway) If you don't already have a postscript printer driver installed, you can add one via the the spadmin utility that comes with all GNU/Linux versions of OpenOffice.org. You'll also need a copy of Java installed and added to the OpenOffice.org configuration through Tools > Options > OpenOffice.org > Java. You can still create PDF files without Java, but the options are unavailable, which destroys the whole point of using extendedPDF in the first place. Details of these dependencies and how to set them up, if necessary, are given in the very thorough User's Guide that is part of the download. Many users, however, should find that extendedPDF works without the need for any tinkering.


Configuration settings

Once extendedPDF is installed, restart OpenOffice.org and it's available from a small floating window or from Tools > Add-ons > extendedPDF. You'll soon find that you can use it only on a previously saved file, which presumably is a failsafe in case of something unexpected happening while the file is being exported to PDF.

The first time you use extendedPDF, you may want to begin by checking the basic configuration. On the Configuration tab, you can set the paths to dependencies. Chances are, you won't want to change the paths to GhostScript or Java, but you may want to change the path to the PDF viewer, so that you can use the tool of your choice, or the printer name if you have set up a printer using spadmin.

Next, you can head over to the File Settings tab. There, if you don't want the PDF output in the same directory as the original OpenOffice.org file, you can set the output directory. You can also set the directory for the temporary files created during export, as well as choose to have existing files automatically over-written, and to preserve the temporary files. Since extendedPDF first converts files to postscript then to PDF, preserving the temporary files is a way of safeguarding yourself if something goes wrong, because postscript viewers are readily available for GNU/Linux, and the temporary files can still be used by another utility to produce a PDF file.


PDF production settings

The remaining tabs have settings that are more likely to vary with the individual files. The PDF Settings tab contains the basic settings for creating the PDF file. For some reason, the default settings include adding a colored box around all links, although the result is so ugly for documents with regular sized text that I suspect that most people will want to turn it off immediately. Other settings on the tab include setting the default view and quality, using -- unlike OpenOffice.org's default PDF export -- the same choices that Adobe Acrobat does. Another useful setting is the choice of PDF version to use; the lower the setting, the more likely it is to be readable on any machine. You can also set extendedPDF to rotate pages as necessary, so that landscape-oriented pages aren't cut off, and to open each new PDF immediately after creating it.

Other common settings are available on the Headings style. On this tab, you can set what levels of headings are converted into bookmarks in the PDF file, and add additional styles to convert to bookmarks. Only ten of OpenOffice.org's default styles are listed, and the only way to add styles that you created is to define them as an outline level using Tools > Outline Numbering, but, even with these limitations, extendedPDF is still far ahead of OpenOffice.org's default tools.

The final tab for extendedPDF is Security. All settings on this tab are disabled by default, no doubt because PDF security is extremely weak, even without specialized cracking tools like Elcom's. At best, PDF security slows casual users from using a file in ways that you would prefer that they didn't, and makes your preferences known. However, for those who want to make unauthorized editing, copying, or printing slightly more difficult, the Security tab provides a complete set of options, including a choice of 40 or 128 bit encryption.


Conclusion

Although extendedPDF is released under the GNU General Public License, free software users -- as opposed to open source users -- may find its reliance on a non-free language like Java objectionable. Unfortunately, so far as I know, no one has attempted a hack that would make extendedPDF work fully with GCJ, the way they have with other Java-based tools in OpenOffice.org. The fact that there seems no strong reason for writing the add-on in Java makes the choice especially frustrating.

The only other drawback to extendedPDF is the choice of marking the current tab by graying out its heading. Even after hours of using extendedPDF, this choice still has me constantly losing the current tab and making me think that one tab is unavailable.

To casual users, who just want some form -- any form -- of PDF writing from the desktop, extendedPDF may be overkill. If so, they can continue to rely on Tools > Export as PDF, which remains available after extendedPDF is installed. However, for webmasters, technical writers and anyone else who needs to control their PDF output, extendedPDF fills a niche on the GNU/Linux desktop that has been empty too long.


Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist who writes regularly for the NewsForge and Linux Journal web sites.

______________________

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Bruce Byfield (nanday)

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Good Article

PS 2 game cheats's picture

What an informative and good article. I love this website. Keep up the good work.

PDF

Anonymous's picture

Hi,

This add in is great. I was sending my resume out on Craigs list and it bouced because the PDF that the default OOffice2.2 created was +200k big. I could print it as PS and do ps2pdf and get a 60K file. After a little searching I found this article and installed the program. It creates PDF files that are 55k big. This is great for me. YMMV.

This begs the question of what kind of bloat and other things are in the 140k that the default PDF creator uses.

why PDF Creator output so much larger ...

Anonymous's picture

Parent asks why the output from PDF Creator is so much larger.
The answer is quite simple.

PDF Creater in effect captures the bits which would have
been printed, and stores them in the PDF as an image.

By generating the PDF file directly, the content can
instead be things like the text to be rendered, the
font to render it in, and the characteristics of that text.

This is generally far smaller then the approach of PDF
Creator.

That being said, PDF creator is great in that ANYTHING
which could print output, can have its output diverted
into a PDF file. In some cases if you desire the
recipients to NOT be able to fiddle with the content,
the PDF creator approach can actually be a benefit.

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A great article.

Encryption

MRA's picture

Nice write up of extendedPDF.
You say that pdf security is easy to crack, is this also the case with 128 bit encryption ?

MRA
MoneyAside.com

Open PDF files

nihat's picture

Can I open PDF files in Open Office?

PDF Forms

Anonymous's picture

Thanks for this introduction into extendedPDF.

Sadly this is not for me. I need to be able to create PDF forms which generate FDF output. It would be great if OpenOffice itself would have this already included.

Right now I have to add the form elements with Scribus. (Or Acrobat itself)

Re: extendedPDF: Professional PDF controls for OpenOffice.org

Anonymous's picture

The coloured boxes have been a feature since extendedPDF was first released. Eliminating them is a simple option.

I am curious about the advantages of using this tool over what is available in the 2.0.4 development snapshots of OpenOffice.org. For example, you mention encryption which m180 does very nicely. See
http://documentation.openoffice.org/manuals/OOo2.x/encrypted.pdf
Likewise for other security features. For example, http://documentation.openoffice.org/manuals/OOo2.x/no_copy.pdf which protects the document whilst allowing accessiblity features to be employed.

With 2.0.4 being released within the next few weeks what is the advantage?

... what is the advantage?

Anonymous's picture

Some advantages I know and find important:

1. If you are on Linux:
http://qa.openoffice.org/issues/show_bug.cgi?id=66809

2. On any OS: better first impression of pdf files you create. You can have pdf bookmarks expanded to the level you want (let's say only 1 or two levels). OOo expands all of them.
If you have ~20 chapters, with 10 subchapters each, ..., in your document, and get all 6 bookmark levels (~1000 bookmarks) expanded on opening, it's quite a mess to look at. Read the title: professional pdf controls...

There is one disadvantage, too:

In some cases, you cannot have correct active table of contents in pdf, if you make the TOC from unnumbered outline in OOo Writer.
It's documented in extendedPDF user's guide, but that doesn't help...
OOo export does it correctly.

So, there are two tools, each doesn't do the job 100%. But you may choose a better one for your particular task, and that's great.

Programmer's comments

Martin Brown's picture

Thanks for the writeup!

Regarding Java usage: extendedPDF only uses Java to apply security settings. If you want a Free alternative then it will also work with PDFTK. However, PDFTK is large and thus the Java alternative is included in the download.

We're open to suggestions on how to present the user interface. We'll see if we can come up with a better way to mark the current 'tab'.

Font embedding control will be implemented in due course.

If you have other requirements for your PDF creation please let us know.

Multi-document pdfs

Brian2000's picture

Is there a way to create a large pdf from multiple oo.org documents?

If yes, do they all have to be Writer docs?

PoDoFo

Anonymous's picture

In addition to pdftk, there's a new library called PoDoFo that ships with a pdf merge tool. If you don't have any luck with pdftk you might want to try it out.

Gios PDF Splitter and Merger

Alessandro's picture

Pdftk is very powerful but command line based. If you use Windows, you could also try "Gios PDF Splitter and Merger" from http://www.paologios.com/. That's perfect for the "simple" tasks like merging pdf documents together.

look for an app named

Anonymous's picture

look for an app named pdftk...
it is command line driven, but very simple to use... you just concat various pdf files to create a big one. Not elegant, but may work for you.

font control?

Bob Tennent's picture

This package doesn't seem to give the user any control over font embedding. Sometimes one wants all fonts embedded (to ensure reproducibility) and sometimes one does not want fonts embedded (to minimize the size of the PDF file). The ps2pdf utility of ghostscript can control font embedding but it's a pain to use.

font embedding needed

timjowers's picture

I could not install it with OO2. Changed install.sh to correct paths and then tried:
[root@serviza extendedPDF-Universal-Edition]# ./install.sh

WARNING: This tool is deprecated! Please use unopkg instead!
Raising process: file:///opt/openoffice.org2.0/program/soffice
Arguments: -nologo -nodefault -accept=pipe,name=21cf4de6f4f8fbe8e7401430b3c08eb7fa11731a2886ba1a47287752ae62;urp;
Ok. Connecting...Ok.

ERROR: (com.sun.star.uno.RuntimeException) { { Message = "[] Berkeley Db error (0): Db::open: No such file or directory", Context = (com.sun.star.uno.XInterface) @0 } }

pkgchk failed.

I need font embedding for LuLu. Their darn printer partner required Adobe PDF.

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