I was chatting with an attorney recently in municipal court, and he mentioned his frustration with going paperless in his office due to the high cost of PDF creation software. This is because Adobe’s Acrobat 8 Professional, the full version of their product, costs $449 to purchase, or $159 to upgrade, per computer. The Standard version costs $299 to purchase, or $99 to upgrade, but lacks features found in the Professional version, such as,

  • redaction of sensitive information like Social Security numbers (key for bankruptcy or tax attorneys);
  • the creation of fillable forms from scanned documents, existing PDF documents, or Microsoft Word and Excel documents;
  • automatically recognize form fields on PDF documents and convert them to interactive fields that can be filled in by anyone using the free Reader software; or
  • allow collaboration on documents by others using the Reader software.

Although you could buy the Professional version for those in your office that need these features, and get Standard or the free Reader for others, there is another alternative.

I then told him that Nuance Communications, Inc., publishes a rival product called PDF Converter Professional that sells for $100 and has many more features than the equivalent Adobe product. I stumbled across this product when I upgraded to Microsoft Office 2003 and discovered that my version of Acrobat was not compatible. After having spent money already on the new Office Suite (and the XP computer it was running on) I was not looking for another big software investment, even at the upgrade prices. The Nuance product came with a whole host of incredibly useful features that would cost hundreds of dollars more in the corresponding Adobe product.

For example, I recently downloaded a PDF form from a government web site and opened it in Converter. With one click of a button, the software went through the document and created fillable fields, so that I could complete the form and print it. In my bankruptcy practice, I must e-mail tax returns to the trustee with the first five numbers of the debtor’s Social Security number redacted. I am able to do that with the software without making a separate copy of the return, blacking out the information, and then scanning it in to the PDF software. A real time saver! The only complaint I have is that I cannot scan a document directly in to the Converter software; I must use another scanning program, then open the PDF with Converter (or open the image file with Converter and convert it to a PDF). However, as most scanners come with scanning software, I do not see this as a major problem.

The reason for this lacking feature has to do with other software available from Nuance that manages the scanning and organization of documents. Check out PaperPort on their web site if this is something that you would need. It retails for $200 (upgrade for $150), but it includes PDF Create!, a stripped down version of the Professional version. Although it lacks many of the features of the Pro version, one strategy might be to put PaperPort on staff computers to scan and manage the documents, and Converter Pro on machines used by those needing to manipulate PDFs or that work with files already in PDF format, such as downloaded forms.  Either way, you have created an affordable solution to getting that much closer to the elusive “paperless office.”