Pros & Cons of using an Online PDF Editor [OPINION]

Published on: August 12, 2022
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Here at PDF Pro, we are planning on rolling out some exciting new online tools to make it easier to merge, sign, and edit PDF files on the go. I’ll make a separate post to announce them when they’re ready, but for now, and as someone who has been working in the PDF Software Space for over 15 years, I thought it to be useful to share some of my thoughts on the topic of using online PDF editors, such as when they would be appropriate, and when you might prefer to work with a desktop application instead.

 

What is an online PDF Editor, anyway?

Put simply, an online PDF Editor is a web application that allows one to manipulate PDF files. The workflow involves uploading a PDF file using a web browser and then selecting the sort of manipulation desired. The web app usually performs some sort of processing of the PDF document on Automagically (on the server), and then returns the output, which can be retrieved by the user.

In general, it’s important to note that as the user of an online PDF Editor, you’ll likely need a way to provide the PDF file you are working on to this service, whether it’s uploading it from your cloud storage (like Google Drive / Dropbox), or from your computer’s hard disk

 

What kinds of online PDF tools exist today?

There’s really all kinds of PDF Editing tools that exist today that allow you to perform all sorts of tasks. You can:

  • Merge PDF files online
  • Split PDF Files online
  • Reorder Pages
  • Convert your PDF file to various different file formats, including PDF to Word, PDF to Excel, PDF to PowerPoint etc.
  • Compress PDF files
  • Add / remove / edit text on your PDF files.

Etc. etc. etc.

 

Are there alternatives to Online PDF tools?

Editing PDF files on your computer is still the primary alternative to online PDF Tools. That, or using a different, more flexible file format.

Online PDF tools started cropping up only fairly recently, especially when vendors like Solid Documents or PDFTron started licensing their SDKs for use on servers intended for this purpose.

 

Keep in mind, the PDF file format was invented in 1991 by Adobe Systems, and largely pre-dates the internet. Until only a few years ago, virtually all work on PDF files had been performed on people’s computers with few to no options to do these tasks online.

 

Adobe Acrobat is a desktop app intended for Editing PDF files, as is our very own PDF Pro.

 

Are Online PDF web applications free?

A lot of them are! Although they tend to come with some restrictions if using these services for free, like you have to create an account, you might have to wait until server resources are available for your document. Many don’t allow you to process more than a few documents a day, or in total, without a paid account. These paid accounts often come in the form of a subscription.

 

Why Should I use an Online PDF Editing tool?

There’s lots of reasons to use an online PDF Editor:

  • No Software to install: Since you interact with it using your browser, it’s quite convenient not to have to download and install a desktop app.
  • Online PDF Editing Tools work on all Platforms: Whether you’re on your phone, tablet, Mac, Windows, Linux, you should have no trouble uploading that file, adding those changes, and then getting it back. 😊
  • Tools for everything: These days if you typed “Online PDF {INSERT TASK}” into Google, you will probably find an online service that does exactly what you’re looking to do.

 

Why should I avoid an online PDF Editing tool?

This may sound obvious, but you should not use online PDF tools if you care about privacy. Due to the sensitive nature of the contents in PDF files, it’s often not a good idea to use an online PDF tool for work you need to perform on a PDF document.

To be clear, you are sharing your PDF files with a 3rd party service, whom you do not know. If you are uploading tax documents, blueprints, or any other data that you probably don’t want being perused by a stranger, then you should generally avoid online services, even the ones that claim they respect your privacy, or that say they delete your file after 24 hours. In studying our competition, we’ve seen founders to go to great lengths to hide their identities, such as using fake names / profiles, and even creating anonymous companies in Zug, Switzerland to hide who was actually operating the service. As a rule of thumb, if you can’t find someone on LinkedIn working at that company, you should probably avoid using their service.

 

The second reason you might prefer a desktop application for working with PDF files is that you get offline access to the app. Doing work without having to rely on an internet connection is a very frequent scenario. Not to mention that a connection to the online service can drop for many reasons, and I would argue that having an app available on your laptop is generally more reliable. You’ll thank me the next time, you decide you can’t get away from work and just had to reorder a few pages on that one PDF document while on a plane or on that weekend getaway cabin in the woods!

 

The third reason to choose a desktop application over an online PDF Editing tool is that they are generally faster to work with, especially when working with a lot of documents, or with larger files. The process of uploading PDFs, editing them, then downloading them again can be quite tedious, and you’ll probably want to avoid this if you find yourself working with PDF files often.

 

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Edmon MorenCo-Founder, PDF Pro Software Limited
I started PDF Pro Software Inc in 2017 with my co-founder in Vancouver, British Columbia. I enjoy working in the document management space, and in tech in general, as I run a second company in the Software Licensing Space. I enjoy a good bike ride, and visiting family and old friends in Europe when I get the opportunity.