ARCHIVE: Free PDF Solutions
I never thought I'd see the day when PDFs would be so ubiquitous and widely accepted that you wouldn't really need Adobe's software to read, write, and serve PDF documents. The four free (mostly for personal use) applications that have made me giddy today are as follows:
- Read: FoxIt PDF Reader for Windows - One simple EXE file that can open pretty much every PDF I've tried.
- Write: Primo PDF Printer Driver - That's right! A 100% free no-nags printer driver that you can install on any personal PC and start churning out PDF documents from any program! I tried it from many different applications and it works great!
- Serve - From Scratch: FPDF is a set of PHP classes that you can just drop on to any PHP server and start serving up dynamic PDF files with minimal coding and almost no server configuation. I just extracted the files into a folder on my server and the demo/tutorial examples worked fine. I didn't even have to change one line of PHP/Apache config files. If you are going to be serving thousands of dynamic PDF files, maybe this isn't the solution for you, but if you are like me and just want to whip up a PDF file once in a while for something, this is the easiest and cheapest solution out there. Only one problem with this library is that it cannot load an existing PDF to make any changes.
- Serve - PDF Import: FPDI comes in to satisfy FPDF's biggest lacking - import existing PDF documents into FPDF. Simply extract the files into the same folder as FPDF and you are ready to go. Combining FPDF and FPDI, you have a pretty much full-fledged free dynamic PDF server at your hand. If you have ever thought about creating nice looking invoices in PDF but hated coding all the static stuff like Company Logo placement, boxes/panels/designs etc., here's how to do it easily: Make a blank template invoice in whatever program you like - I use MS PowerPoint. Then print the template to a PDF document and save as invoice.pdf. Now use FPDI to load invoice.pdf into an FPDF object and using some basic PHP/MySQL code, just layout and write the invoice items and pricing information on the FPDF object. Then issue the pdf->Output() command and the PDF file will be shown on the user's browser, as long as they have the Acrobat Reader Plugin.