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Let Your Visitors PDF Your Pages
March 8, 2004
By Brian Livingston

Brian Livingston An Adobe PDF file is easy to read, but it's a pain in the adobe to create.

That's because the free, downloadable Adobe Reader utility makes it simple for almost anyone to open and view a file in PDF (portable document format). But the program that Adobe Systems Inc. promotes for making PDFs — Acrobat 6.0 — sells for a pricey $200 and is tricky to configure, with scores of file-compression and configuration settings.

Few consumers, as a result, have Acrobat installed, as opposed to Adobe Reader. That means they can't make their own PDF files. They therefore can't convert pages on your Web site into PDFs that they can share offline with other people.

There are very good reasons why you might want your visitors to be able to do just that — and now there's a superior way to let them.

Inventing a Better Acrobat

Corda Technologies Inc. released last week a new product, called Highwire (an acrobat's best friend, get it?). The software gives your visitors the ability to create a PDF file out of any page on which you place a "Save As PDF" button. This can be a great benefit:

Avoid Print Problems. How many times have you printed a Web page, only to find that the right-hand edge of the text has been cut off by the browser? Highwire eliminates this headache by re-formatting overly wide pages so your tables and other material fit into the current printer's margin settings.

Corporate Identity. Many companies, especially in the legal and financial services industries, want certain "magic words" or disclaimers to appear on the bottom of every page rather than only on the bottom of the last page. Highwire makes this possible by giving you control over the headers and footers that each printed page bears. The software can even force the headings of a multi-page table to print on every page, not just on the first page of the table.

Security. Highwire can create PDF files that are encrypted and password-protected. This allows users of your site to create an otherwise-unreadable file that they can send as an e-mail attachment to others. For instance, a brokerage account statement can be saved as a PDF file and e-mailed to an accountant. No one can read the file in transit, but the accountant can easily open it with a previously agreed-upon password.

All of these things are possible, of course, for someone who's installed and learned the ins and outs of Adobe Acrobat. But Highwire makes these capabilities available to any end user who hasn't purchased Acrobat, after you've installed Highwire onto your company's Web server.

Not for Those With Shareware Budgets

These capabilities, however, don't come cheap. Highwire is a serious investment for enterprises that transact important business through their Web presence:

Highwire Single-Threaded Version, which is best-suited for smaller e-commerce installations, lists for $6,495 per server.

Highwire Multi-Threaded Version, which adds multi-CPU capabilities, lists for $14,495 per server. The multi-threaded edition also supports automatic clustering and failover to provide reliability for corporations with high-availability requirements.

Neil Williams, CEO of Corda, said in a telephone interview that the multi-threaded version will process user requests about 75 percent faster on a 2-CPU server than the single-threaded version can. Neither version requires any additional per-user or per-CPU licenses beyond the per-server cost.

Dealing With the Competition

Highwire competes against one of Adobe's own products, Adobe Document Server, a $20,000 per-CPU offering that has similarities to an open-source program named FOP (Formatting Objects Processor).

Williams claims that FOP produces only about one page of PDF output in the time that Highwire can produce five to 20 pages. He also said both the open-source program and Adobe's server product require special tags, called XSL-FO (Extensible Style Language Formatting Objects), that must be added to the usual HTML code of a Web page. Highwire, by comparison, works with ordinary HTML, although it operates most predictably with content that's formatted in the more stringent XHTML variant of HTML.

Adobe product marketing manager Marty Krasilczuk said of the performance of her company's Document Server, "We of course have information like that in terms of assisting our salespeople, but we don't usually publish numbers like that."


Highwire is labeled "version 6.0," even though it's a 1.0 product. The versioning is designed to give the server product the same rev number as Corda Server 6.0, a suite that includes charting and mapping applications for Web sites.

Corda provides a Web page with numerous working Highwire examples that you should check out, including a mock 401(k) statement that generates a PDF with all the copyfitting and table-heading features that the company is most proud of.

Corda says the majority of its large financial-service users, such as Fidelity Investments, were testers of the beta version of Highwire and are now close to implementation of the released product. If your corporation provides valuable information on-screen to your customers, letting them create their own PDF content with a mere mouse-click is a capability you should consider rolling out soon.

Brian Livingston is the editor of and the co-author of Windows Vista Secrets and 10 other books. Send story ideas to him via his contact page. To subscribe free and receive Executive Tech via e-mail, visit our signup page.

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