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Generating PDF files using free software

Adobe PDF files are now almost a standard way of exchanging read-only electronic documents online. Most people have Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on their system to view PDF files. As a result, when they need to generate PDF files, they first think of Adobe and its rather expensive Adobe Acrobat software.

This is not a good solution. The fact is, you can generate PDF files using only freely available software on the web. You might lose some fancy advanced functionalities, but you probably don't care about them if you can't name them. PDF generation can be achieved using AFPL Ghostscript and Adobe's postscript printer driver.

A little bit background: both the Postscript language and the PDF format are invented by Adobe, so conversion from Postscript to PDF is well documented. So instead of generating PDF directly (which is a false notion, I will explain), you can do it by first generating a Postscript file and then convert it to PDF. In fact, this is exactly how Adobe Distiller generates PDF files.

I will use the Windows platform as an example, on UNIX platforms it is essentially similiar. First of all you need to install the Adobe Postscript Printer Definition (PPD) files. Make sure you download the one called "PPD Files: Adobe" and not the one from other vendors. PPD files are printer specific, the one from Adobe is a "pseudo" driver in the sense that it doesn't really connect the driver to a real printer, it just outputs a postscript file that you can print later using any postscript printer. Once you have downloaded it, extract it to some directory.

Next you need to install Adobe postscript driver itself, download the latest engine and install it. When the installation asks you to select a port, choose "FILE:". When it comes to the step when it asks you to specify a PPD file, browse to the directory where you extracted the Adobe PPD files and select "Adobe Acrobat Distiller" (depending on the language of your system, you can, of course, choose the other available languages)

Next you need to download and install AFPL ghostscript (while you are at it, download and install the free postscript viewer Gsview as well).

Now you can already generate PDF files. Suppose you have a word document, just print it to the postscript printer driver that you just installed, it will print to a file, let's call it test.ps. Next, open test.ps using Gsview and choose menu option "Save As PDF", you got your PDF file!

There are two ways to make this less cubersome. You can download ps2pdf.bat and put it in your PATH. Suppose you have a file named "test.ps", running "ps2pdf.bat test" would give you test.pdf. Note that this batch file might need to be modified depending on where you installed your ghostscript. Or, you can use RedMon to create a printer driver that redirects printing to ghostscript and generates PDF directly. But that's a bit more advanced and probably requires a separate tutorial.