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Re: PDF remediation

for

From: Philip Kiff
Date: Oct 23, 2017 8:13PM


I'm a regular user of axesPDF and I recently went through an evaluation
trial of CommonLook PDF Global Access (GA). I was intending to write-up
a proper review comparing those two specific tools, but who knows when
I'll get around to that, and contributing to this discussion may be more
useful.

Acrobat Still Required

Like Bevi and Jon and others suggest, Acrobat Pro continues to be the
essential, base tool for remediating PDFs. I would recommend upgrading
to Acrobat DC - but I'm not waiting or expecting a significant version
upgrade on any schedule anymore now that they are on a "continuous"
release with a subscription licensing model. Though flawed, it is still
a powerful tool, and I still find myself surprised every once in a while
when I discover some new trick that has been buried away, undocumented
and hidden away from users.

Program Quality

> I evaluated AxesPDF recently and received the following errors
> evaluating the software [....]
I've also periodically run into stray errors with AxesPDF, and some of
them are not well explained at all. I've also run into files that would
not open in AxesPDF for some reason. CommonLook GA seems definitely to
do a better job managing corrupted files, and I would not be surprised
if it generally is programmed more tightly and carefully than AxesPDF.
Having said that, I only ran into a handful of such problem files out of
some thousand or so files I worked on with a colleague in the past year
or two. And in each of those cases, it was eventually possible for me to
figure out what was causing the error.

Interface

The interface of CommonLook is not that different from AxesPDF: document
in the middle, panels on the left and right, a set of vertical tabs on
the far right to open up new panels, and a toolbar across the top.
CommonLook works as a plugin to Acrobat, while AxesPDF is standalone
software. Initially, I assumed that CommonLook would give a better user
experience because it would be tightly integrated with Acrobat, but it
isn't really. You load it up through a submenu in Acrobat, and it
*looks* like it might just be augmenting the regular Acrobat view, but
it actually provides its own view of the document, and when you switch
back to Acrobat proper, you are back in a different environment again.
For an experienced user, it doesn't seem to save much time switching
back and forth than if you just keep both AxesPDF and Acrobat open and
reload the document when you switch back and forth between them.

Cost

> For over $700 USD per license, I'd expect [...]
Good point. I agree with Jon that the pricing of AxesPDF is very high
for the apparent quality and the UI is not as polished or well-thought
out as it could be. My pet peeve is that the "Preview" button is not
visible unless you maximize the window (it's at the bottom, but you
can't scroll down to it unless the window is maximized for some reason),
which meant that I couldn't even figure out how to get a preview at
first, and I still get annoyed every time I have to change my window
size just to use the Preview function.

But I think it is useful to put axesPDF in context. This month, I was
quoted a price of CAD $15,000, PER YEAR, PER LICENSE, (that's about USD
$11,800 or $10,000 Euros PER YEAR!) for commercial use of CommonLook GA
(i.e., for a license that would allow me to provide PDF remediation
services to 3rd parties). To me, that is completely insane pricing. I
would go so far as to call it offensively high. There is no small
business operator trying to eke out a living remediating PDFs, who can
afford to pay that amount, per year just for software, especially when
software like axesPDF at 1/15 the price actually does much of what
CommonLook GA claims to do. That price is so high that I was driven to
use axesPDF as a simple act of protest, if nothing else, in the hopes
that by supporting the competition it will eventually force CommonLook
to lower its prices. And unlike CommonLook, axesPDF displays their
prices publicly, directly on their website so you can easily compare
licenses and choose what works instead of waiting for a customer server
representative to get back to you and work on a quote with you. And
axesPDF has an automated trial method, so you don't have to wait for
someone to get back to you for that either.

Validators

I must admit that I'm still learning the ins and outs of the PDF format,
and I've been happy to use the PAC 2 tool to assist in performing
automated validation of PDF/UA compliance for those checks that are
possible to do with an automated checker. AxesPDF incorporates a version
of the PAC 2 checker: the company that made the PAC tool also created
AxesPDF, so the results you get with PAC 2 will be identical to those
you get using axesPDF checker. For me, the move from the rudimentary
Adobe built-in checker to the PAC 2 tool, was quite a leap. And I am
only now realizing the breadth of additional checking that is possible.
I certainly found the compliance tools in CommonLook GA more detailed
than in axesPDF. CommonLook offers to check against WCAG, Section 508,
and HHS in addition to just the PDF/UA check that axesPDF offers. And I
found it especially nice in CommonLook to have readable explanations of
each error. But both error reports can be equally daunting when they
present a user with hundreds or thousands of errors.  In practical
terms, I did not find much difference between elements that were flagged
as problems between the two built-in checkers, though the way they
identified the issues would sometimes be different.

Common Features that Help a Lot

Both axesPDF and CommonLook share a number of common features that help
reduce the time it takes to remediate PDFs a lot. Here are a few key ones:

1. global edits (change all REF tags to LINK, for e.g.)
2. mass edits (select many tags, edit their properties all at once)
3. display and edit more properties easily (without entering raw PDF
property array)
4. search and find tags
5. lots of one-click fixes for annoying issues

Unique Features in CommonLook

CommonLook has a good number of unique features that seemed valuable -
just not worth 15 times the price. Josh Shroder above listed some of his
favourite features of CommonLook:
> 1 -- It makes quick work of generating properly tagged tables and lists
> 2 -- It's pretty good at linearizing tables
> 3 -- It can merge tags where needed
> 4 -- There's an extensive set of keyboard shortcuts, which are much
> faster than using a mouse
> 5 -- The automated checker is vastly superior to Acrobat
> 6 -- A PDF "integrity validator" is included, which can correct
> problems with anomalous or otherwise corrupt files
axesPDF doesn't have a comparable replacement for 4 of these 6 (it has a
very good built-in checker with its version of the PAC tool, and it has
some keyboard shortcuts for tag editing). I'm not sure how often I would
need the merge tags feature, but the possibility of quickly fixing
tables and lists in particular is very attractive. For example, to fix
complex tables in axesPDF, I find myself sometimes using the TURO tool
in Acrobat to tag cell content as text (P) and then switching to axesPDF
to mass edit the P's into TD's. This is still faster than manually
editing a large table in Acrobat alone, but a good table tag
analyzer/generator would be very nice.

In addition, I found a couple other unique features in CommonLook that I
am not sure are used regularly by power users, but that I could imagine
being valuable:

1. find tags by properties
2. unique separate view of untagged content

That's it for now. I look forward to trying out some of these other
tools and online options that others have pointed out.

Phil.