Foxit A PDF Dark Horse

Just about every smart device that includes a camera -- such as Apple’s iPhone 4 or Motorola’s Droid X, for example -- is capable of integrating with a PDF-creation app. The volume of PDFed data could be on track to explode as a result, meaning that software to manage and edit PDF documents could be more critical than ever.

With Adobe Systems the long-standing leader of the PDF marketplace, it’s been difficult for competitors to step up and take a crack at stealing market share. Foxit Software is making a bold stab at doing just this right now, with its most recent versions of PhantomPDF.

The CRN Test Center took a look at Foxit PhantomPDF -- which has offerings ranging from a $49.99 standard version to a $199 Business Edition. (Foxit is now discounting the PhantomPDF Business Edition to $149.) The Test Center set out to examine Foxit PhantomPDF’s ability to remove cost and complexity from document management and workflow, and whether, in standing up to Adobe, there would be much in the way of compromise.

Foxit, Fremont, Calif., has said that its software is lightweight and deploys quickly -- a marked contrast from the sometimes kludgy installation process that is a trait of some products in Adobe’s product line. In all, we were able to download Foxit PhantomPDF from its Web site and install it on a PC in about five minutes. It didn’t require a reboot to get started. That was a good sign.

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Once we got going, we liked just about everything with PhantomPDF -- it is snappy, its one-click “Create PDF” feature is nice, and the ability to redact content from a PDF before sharing is a very nice touch. Redact is a particularly well-done feature (available in the Business version of the application); all that was needed was to open a PDF document, click on “Edit” in the toolbar, choose “redaction,” and outline what to redact. Boom -- it was that simple.

In addition, Foxit PhantomPDF provides, essentially, a full array of PDF editing functions. Among the functions available are watermarking, combining multiple files into a single PDF, writing and managing comments and collaboration, OCR text recognition, file compression, creation of electronic PDF forms that others may fill out, and more.

The question that might arise, naturally, is why go with Foxit PhantomPDF when Adobe Acrobat X Pro is available? After all, San Jose, Calif.-based Adobe is the company that has turned the PDF standard into the major document and imaging force that it is today. However, a full version of Adobe Acrobat X Pro will run $449 (list), which is $300 per seat more than Foxit PhantomPDF. For starters, that’s just one reason to go with Foxit’s PDF product.

There is also an ease-of-use reason to choose PhantomPDF, particularly the Business version, which makes it attractive. It doesn’t require an awful lot of instruction, troubleshooting or tapping into the “Help” files.

In addition to PCs, PDF files have become one of the critical formats for mobile devices -- Android devices, iOS devices and the BlackBerry PlayBook, for example -- because of their small footprint and ease of moving back and forth and sharing. That means you should only count on PDF use to increase, and options for creating, editing and sharing PDFs will become increasingly important.

While PhantomPDF doesn’t support Mac OS X -- which it will need to do to fully compete with Adobe in the enterprise -- it is simply a nice, straightforward and effective application for PDF creation, collaboration and management on the Windows platform. It reduces cost and complexity, particularly for smaller enterprises. It’s a product that we recommend.