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Hot on the Web

PDF for the masses

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on May 23, 2003
(Issue 2121, The Medicine Bag)

You don't read many product reviews in this column. Browsers and e-mail clients all have similar functionality, and the entire software side of the 'Net is rather stagnant from a technology standpoint.

But every once in awhile I run across a new utility that is so innately powerful and easy to use that I end up wondering how we ever lived without it.

Add "RoboPDF" to that list.

Published by eHelp, "RoboPDF" allows you to create an Adobe Acrobat (Portable Document Format) file from any application that can print – and for a fraction of the cost of Adobe Acrobat.

Thanks to Adobe's prescient support of a free Acrobat Reader for viewing them, Acrobat PDFs are the industry standard for reproducing documents for both the Web and print. The twin beauties of the PDF format are that 1. It appears exactly as designed, even if the viewer doesn't have the software that created it and 2. You can lock it so the viewer can't edit it.

So if your company's press releases are written in Lotus Notes and a client wants to include a copy in their media kit but they don't have Lotus Notes, you can create a PDF that will be identical to what you print out in Notes.

But a full version of Acrobat costs $250. While many products now include PDF distillers so you can create PDFs (such as Microsoft Word and Corel's WordPerfect), others don't.

For $49, you can pick up a copy of "RoboPDF" – and create PDFs from the print menu of any application in Windows.

As with Acrobat, "RoboPDF" appears in your printer directory – and functions as a virtual printer. So to create a PDF with "RoboPDF," you don't use the Save as or even Export funtions of your software, but the Print command.

Heck, using "RoboPDF" in Internet Explorer you can even create PDFs of sites you visit and have graphics and photos appear in print as they do on-screen, instead of dropping off. (Tried this trick with Netscape 7.2, and it didn't work – first time in a long time IE has managed to best Netscape in technology.)

Web site for true Geeks

I've been using computers since the mid-'70s – it's been so long that I can remember getting excited when my dad bought a Fairchild Channel F, the first home videogame console unit with cartridge-based software.

But over the past six, seven years, a lot of the fun has gone out of computing. The "gee whiz" factor that had us standing 15 deep outside the virtual reality booth at the old ComputorEdgeSan Diego Computer Society Computer Expo has in large part been lost.

It's just hard to get excited anymore – we've become jaded through so much technological success.

And yet my friend LAN Party Keith recently sent me a link that has restored a lot of the fun to computers at my house.

Think Geek is like an for, well, geeks. I mean, they carry all kinds of geeking goodies – from an all-in-one Atari joystick with games embedded (just plug it into your TV and start blasting those Asteroids) to the Auravision combination night-light/keyboard., Think Geek has all kinds of cool toys and devices you've never heard of, maybe never even thought of.

How about a carry harness for lugging your tower case to LAN parties? Not enough? How about a full-on LAN bag? A caller ID box that displays the info inside a glowing blue globe? PC watch? A $55 portable mini-fridge?

Go. Have fun. Just don't send me your credit card bill – I warned you.