The University of St. Thomas

A simple case of Adobe and other matters…

Published on: Thursday, October 24th, 2013

Some time ago, I converted a document into Adobe PDF with fill-able form fields. We unleashed it after testing showed all worked as expected.

The very first problem the feedback revealed was that some of the form fields cut off after certain number of characters. This was relatively easy to fix by making the fields expandable. But the fix introduces additional problem of display issue and then printing issue.

Some other problems that cropped up in real use were not that easy to be fixed. One of them was that Apple Laptops allow a program called Preview to open and work on the PDF, but unfortunately the program does not fully implement all PDF features, so some of the form fields once filled in PDF can show up jumbled when viewed in Preview. After some exploration, I settled on print the textual PDF to image PDF in Adobe Reader. This way, the document will display correctly no matter what program is used, either Adobe Reader or Preview. I found the PDFwriter, free for Mac to solve the problem. Since this free program is a print driver, not a full program, installation and use of this program requires two steps, one to install the program, and then second, to install the printer under Systems and Preferences. And the last sticky thing about this program is that you have to know where to look for the printed PDF, which is usually under /Users/Shared/PDFwriter on the hard drive. Therefore the solution is not for the faint of heart. It requires a certain level of technical expertise, not much, but enough to stall certain number of law students.

The second problem is that on some PCs, the save button is grayed out in Adobe Reader, so the filled out form can not be saved! Frustratingly, same document when used in two different PCs behave differently, one can save and the other can not. Ok, this is good for troubleshooting. The problem must be due to the settings of the reader itself. Otherwise it will not explain the different behavior of the same file on two different PCs. But I am stymied as to the solution. Luckily we just sidestepped the problem, by, again printing the document to an image PDF.

I am sure there are many instances like this in that a relatively small project might just snowball into a huge time investment, with no optimal solutions to keep everybody happy. Technology enables us to do more things, but it surely has not made it easier to accomplish them. And with the lightening speed technology is changing, we have to be on our toes to make sure we are keeping up. Two days ago, Apple released its latest OSX Mavericks. This new OS has not been tested to work with our exam taking software and we were duely notified. In turn, we notified our students not to upgrade, “for now”. But we did not act quick enough. Some of them had already upgraded. It almost looked like that we had to preempt, rather than react.

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