Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Free PDF creation software shootout! FreePDF Creator vs. CutePDF Writer

Normally, I do not “do” product reviews for software companies if they ask me to. But I am a people pleaser and I do like to try out new things. Every once in a while I am informed about a software title that impresses me enough that I make a change in my software habits; which leads me to today’s article!

Today I am going to compare the classic, well known and well loved, PDF creation software called CutePDF with a new title from the makers of PDF Converter Pro called FreePDF Creator. I am going to compare both software titles on their ease of installation, ease of use, as well as a feature comparison.

CutePDF Writer Impressions:

CutePDF Writer has a complete download size of 6.83mb. One file is the GPL Ghostscript writer, the other file is the actual CutePDF app.  So you need to install the Ghostscript writer first, then install CutePDF. The Ghostscript install is very fast and is almost silent. The CutePDF Writer installation is a straightforward one; click next to start, accept the license agreement, then click Install. In the past, the Ask Toolbar was bundled with the installer. But in today’s download it appears to have been removed, which is a good thing! After the installation finished, a web page pops up to a small readme about the software.

Using CutePDF is simple. Just print a document and choose the CutePDF Writer printer. The screenshot is from Microsoft Word 2010.

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After printing the document, a small classic Windows 98 style “Save As” window appears. Choose a folder location to store the file and click Save to finish. All in all, this is a pretty straght-forward process.

So that is pretty much it for CutePDF Writer. There isn’t much to it, which is why it is loved by so many! It is simple to use and doesn’t eat up system resources.

FreePDF Creator Impressions:

FreePDF Creator installer has a file size of 11.8mb and is a single file download, already making it easier to install for non-technical users.

The FreePDF Creator installation process is fairly straightforward. Run the installer, click next, accept the license agreement, then you hit a registration page. The registration page is somewhat misleading because it appears that you must register in order to use it, but in fact there is a skip button at the bottom. I skipped the registration for this installation.

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After clicking install, the installer kicked off a few Visual C++ runtime installations and to my surprise it installed the same GPL Ghostwriter driver that CutePDF Writer uses. This explains the reason why the installer is a bit larger than CutePDF.

Creating a PDF with FreePDF Creator is the same process as in CutePDF. Print a document and choose the FreePDF printer from the drop down list. The screenshot below shows an example from Microsoft Word 2010.

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The FreePDF Creator app appears and presents you with several options.

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It is here where FreePDF Creator outshines CutePDF Writer. There are three different settings you can change when creating a PDF with FreePDF Creator; Output Quality, Document Properties, and Security. The fourth option, PDF Editing options, involves advanced settings for PDF creation that is only included in the commercial version of PDF Converter Pro. The default selections are more than sufficient for creating a simple PDF file. Simply choose a save as location, decide if you want to do after the PDF is created (from the Post Process option), then click Create PDF. The memory footprint for FreePDF Creator is about 20mb including the print driver. This isn’t bad considering that CutePDF uses around the same amount of RAM.

So there are already several things that make FreePDF Creator stand out. But is it a better choice, especially for those that like CutePDF so very much?

The Verdict?

We are now at the verdict. So, which one wins the shootout? Is it the feature-rich FreePDF Creator, or the traditional and simple CutePDF Writer? First, you need to know that the reality here is that both PDF solutions actually do the exact same thing. One way or another, they will create your PDF files and both of them won’t bother you with ads, malware, or ask you to upgrade to their premium versions. In short, they are non-obtrusive and they just work. Both software will create monochrome and color PDFs, and each operate in the same manner using a Windows print driver.

I have been a user of CutePDF Writer for years but I think I have officially made the switch to FreePDF Creator. Compared to CutePDF, FreePDF Creator has built in security features and document editing options that you would normally have to pay extra for. I would actually use these security features because I do email out Microsoft Powerpoint presentations in PDF format on occasion and with FreePDF Creator I can now secure them. In my opinion, FreePDF Creator it was easier to install than CutePDF Writer and the FreePDF website is easier to navigate.

In the end, if you are looking for absolute simplicity and the smallest system footprint then CutePDF Writer is what you should go for. But if you want a solution that is easy to install, has document security features, and has document quality settings then you would be more interested in FreePDF Creator.

- Joe