A Review of PDF-eXPLODE

Kathi Kellenberger, 2008-02-07 (first published: 2007-02-15)

Introduction

Have you ever run across a software tool or utility and wonder why you didn’t

come up with it yourself? That’s what I thought as I tried out PDF-eXPLODE

recently. Before my DBA days, I spent a lot of time helping small businesses by

automating their repetitive tasks. If a software package had an API,

I usually found a way to take advantage of it to build a creative

solution. Automating the creation and e-mailing of PDF documents from MS

Access was one of the many things I have worked on over the years.

PDF-eXPLODE from 3000AD Systems puts the power into the business user’s hands.

By adding special tags to documents, such as MS Access reports or merged MS

Word documents, this software allows the user to automatically e-mail PDF

invoices, newsletters and other documents to customers without writing a line

of code.

Environment

The software is installed on the user workstation. I installed it on both

Windows XP and Windows 2000 Workstation, the two supported operating systems.

The software works with many reporting tools. The vendor claims that it will

work with any Windows software that is capable of printing. I experimented with

Word, Access, Excel, SQL Server 2005 Reporting Services, existing PDF

documents, and even Notepad.

Installation

The download and installation are very simple. After approving the EULA, very

few options are available (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The option menu

One of the available options, “Create an entry in the Windows Explorer Shell”,

adds an entry into the right-click menu (Figure 2). This feature came in very

handy when I tried out the software on PDF document that had been exported from

Reporting Services.

Figure 2: PDF-eXPLODE added to the right-click menu

Using PDF-eXPLODE

The beauty of PDF-eXPLODE is the ability to automate the creation and sending of

PDF documents without writing any code. Generally, the documents will originate

from some reporting tool or template and data merging process.

For example, a home-based or other small business uses MS Access to keep track

of billing and an Access report to send invoices. If the customer table has a

column called “email”, all you have to do to prepare the report for PDF-eXPLODE

is to add a text control to the report with this formula:
= “<pdfexplode>” + + “</pdfexplode>”.

The font color of the text control can be changed to white so that the tag does

not show up on the invoice. Figure 3 shows how to add the tag to an Access

report.

Figure 3: Adding tags to an Access report

To send the invoices, preview the report and then print it to the PDF-eXPLODE

printer. A dialog box will pop up giving you a chance to either create one PDF

document or a document for each e-mail address found in the report. You can

also choose to just save the documents or e-mail them at that point (Figure 4).

Figure 4: The Pre-Process options

Flexibility is built into PDF-eXPLODE. The program has a setup utility for

configuring the default settings and to set up special settings for each type

of document or certain customers. To find the setup utility (Figure 5), launch

the program and choose “PDF-eXPLODE Options” from the Printer menu.

 

Figure 5: The setup utility

To take advantage of unique settings for each document category, configure a

MessageID for each (Figure 6). The tags inside the document must be modified

slightly to match the MessageID. If an Invoice MessageID is set up, the MS

Access report tag becomes

= “<pdfexplode>INVOICE#” + + “</pdfexplode>”.

 

Figure 6: Individual settings for each type of mailing

If a document has hard-coded page breaks, like Word documents or Access reports,

this software creates the individual PDF documents for each e-mail address as

well as a complete master document. Even a text document created in Notepad can

be exploded into individual PDF files if the page breaks happen to

turn out right.

All of the documents types I experimented with worked as expected except for SQL

Server 2005 Reporting Services reports. A single distorted PDF document

resulted from the process. Eventually, I found out that the problem was

not due to PDF-eXPLODE, but with the way that reports are printed from

Reporting Services. Evidently, a bitmap of the reports is created of the

report on the server and sent to the client to be printed. Because

PDF-eXPLODE can not parse the bitmap, it can not handle the document.

Luckily, I found a way to work around this problem. If the report is

exported first to PDF, the resulting PDF document can be exploded

successfully. I think adding this small additional step to the process to

get the software to work with Reporting Services would not be a problem to most

users.

I worked with a 30 day evaluation copy of the software. The individually

exploded documents each contained a cover page showing that an unregistered

version was used. It also only creates the first two individual PDF documents,

not the entire batch. This is enough to figure out how to use the product, but

not enough to do anything useful.

Support

I sent an e-mail message to the support address and received a reply back within

two hours. It was a holiday weekend, so I was pleasantly surprised to receive

the reply so quickly. I continued to work with support over several

days trying to figure out the Reporting Services problem. Even though I was

just evaluating the product, and they did not know that I was working on this

article, they went out of their way to help me. I was impressed.

Conclusions

I really enjoyed learning how to use PDF-eXPLODE. Any small business that is

ready to automate mailings will love this product. Actually, any company, large

or small, might have a reason to use this product. Just by coincidence I

was called on to help troubleshoot a problem with an Excel macro that creates

PDF files last Friday afternoon, five minutes before I was ready to head

home. I am going to recommend this product to that department on Monday!

Depending on the skills of the office staff, they may or may not need a

technical consultant to get them started using this software. Adding more

detailed tutorials may eliminate the need for a consultant’s help.

I was disappointed that the evaluation version only created two PDF

files instead of the entire batch. This might prevent some potential

customers from buying the product.

One thing about the software that I didn’t like is that it did not warn you if

you forgot to save the settings (see Figure 4 and 5). Most software packages

will warn before information is lost, and users expect this.

Ratings

I will rate each of the following using a scale from one to five, five being the

best and one being the worst. Comments are in the last column.

Ease of Use 5 Running the software is as easy as printing to any printer.
Feature Set 5 Very flexible.
Value 5 Will pay for itself in no time!
Technical Support 5 Got back to me within two hours during a holiday weekend and continued to work

with me even though I was just evaluating the product.

Lack of Bugs 4 Worked great. I would like to see warnings if the user has not saved settings

before exiting the program.

Documentation 3.5 I would like to see more tutorials, maybe a step-by-step video on how to add

the tags. I found some of the documentation confusing.

Performance 4.5 My PDF documents were created quickly, but the evaluation copy only creates two

PDF files. It is difficult to judge the performance on this small sample.

Installation 5 Nothing to it.
Learning Curve 3.5 A bit of a learning curve exists on how to add the tags to the documents.
Overall 4.5 This product is a great tool. I recommend it for small businesses or for anyone

who would like to automate the creation and delivery of PDF documents.

Product Information

Web Site: PDF-eXPLODE

Developer: PDF Explode

Pricing: $349 – Single License

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