Updated: Date, Year
PDF time. A few weeks ago, I was asked by the Investintech team to review the latest release of Able2Extract, a versatile conversion software designed to transform PDF documents into a whole range of target formats, including Microsoft Office, OpenOffice, HTML and AutoCAD files, images, and more. I've done several review of this program in the past, the last being Able2Extract 12. Here we go again.
There's a whole bunch of new, interesting features available. Version 14 comes with improved OCR engine, supports Linux, plus it can also create PDF files rather than just convert them. This makes for a nice basket of options, and a solid test case. All right, let's see what gives.
Setup & first run
This was fairly trivial. The installer does not ask any special questions. I was able to provide my PIN and license the software without any issues. The first thing you will immediately discover is that Able2Extract launches with a popup dialog window, offering several quick tasks, including conversion and creation.
I started with the familiar task - and that's conversion. I loaded two PDF, my own Linux kernel crash book, and Shannon's A Mathematical Theory of Communication, an ancient goldie that defined and set the standard for the modern Internet, back in 1948.
When I loaded my own book, I noticed the penguin image on the first page was all squashed. Not sure why, but this wasn't a promising start. Now, this is different from what we had in the past - correct aspect ratio but no transparency. I wonder why this poses such a big problem.
Able2Extract supports many formats for the conversion. By default, you get Office stuff, HTML, AutoCAD, text and images. But you can also use OpenOffice formats (not specifically LibreOffice, mind), only you need to dig into the preferences to set those up. And by default, the program will always revert to Office rather than OpenOffice on every startup.
The conversion error is still there. If you do not have Microsoft Office installed, and you try any one of the associated programs, you will see a rather ugly and dev-oriented error, which doesn't help the user in any way. Moreover, this message is quite unnecessary, because the program will continue with the conversion. And in my case, it opened the created DOCX file in Word Viewer, so I'm not sure what the fuss is all about. If anything, the error should be more graceful - or not there at all.
The conversion was about the same speed as before - and still single-core. Then, I looked at the DOCX files. Overall, I'm quite impressed with the results, earlier errors notwithstanding. With my PDF, the Tux image was back to its expected proportions - but no transparency. The fonts look a bit odd, but this could be the lack of Computer Modern and Latin Modern fonts in the system. However, the table of contents, the text and the decorations were all top notch. Same with mathematical equations in the other work.
For an odd reason, Able2Extract 14 launched WordPad for the ODT file rather than LibreOffice - I guess it was expecting OpenOffice - and the file conversion to this format was slower than DOCX. The ODT file also looked decidedly worse! I don't know there's the color variation in the text. Is that maybe only a rendering problem?
There's a lot more you can do. You have the ability to annotate the documents, there's batch conversion, and you can tweak the OCR engine, rotate the files, use encryption and digital signatures, and more. You won't necessarily need these tools and features if you're after casual conversions every now and then, but more serious or professional users will appreciate the options. Now, let's take a look at the far end of the PDF spectrum - not converting files from PDF but to.
A fresh addition to Able2Extract is the ability [sic] to create PDF documents. I tried this feature, to see what gives. Oddly, you need to use the Create button rather than the Open button. On that topic, Open allows you to select any file format, but the program will then complain. Why not just limit the tool to only supported formats?
Then, I hit another problem. It wouldn't convert the file - again, the Word thingie. Instead, it pointed me to using the installed distiller (PDF printer if you will) in whatever target program I wanted to use. But that sort of misses the point of using an expensive program that has a lot of extra features, does it not? And why should there be any importance to what software I have installed?
With an ODT file, things were better - but slow. At some point, the creation was stuck at 33% mark for a good five minutes, and I thought the whole thing had somehow frozen, but then the program continued and created a reasonable-quality PDF. Still, this whole area of use needs polishing.
Overall, I have mixed feelings about this particular release of Able2Extract. I like the extra stuff, but I think the integration isn't as good as it should be. On the positive side, the conversion quality seems to have improved a fair deal, albeit with strong and understandable bias toward Microsoft Office. On the negative side, the conversion errors remain, and while they don't detract from the final output, they generate unnecessary noise.
The PDF creation feels rough. Too many errors, and the dependency on the software stack on the user's machine limits the functionality of the program. Able2Extract 14 should work independently, because otherwise, it forces the user to have certain software, and that's a bit odd. If anything, this isn't disclaimed or explained clearly enough. Furthermore, I'd like to see a better and more obvious separation between different formats (specifically Microsoft Office versus OpenOffice), and LibreOffice support would be nice, too. Or other office suites, as well.
The full price of almost 150 dollars is also an important factor, so you need to have proper, professional needs to justify it. You can get a 30-day license, though, but that's still a non-trivial investment. All in all, this Able2Extract 14 deserves something like 6.5/10. Not bad, but the creation element requires improvement, and I want the spurious error messages to go away, since they really harm the experience, and for no good reason. And that would be all for today.