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PDF annotation software as an alternative to trainees' note taking

PDF (Portable Document Format)

Many people misunderstand that PDF is Adobe System’s proprietary format while the truth is it was released as an open standard. Therefore we have dozens of and hundreds of PDF solutions from simple desktop readers to huge and complicated enterprise systems. Everybody agrees that Adobe Reader is definitely one of the most popular PDF readers on various platforms? Actually we have dozens of other simple PDF readers (such as Foxit Reader), of course.

PDF creation

However, it is another common misconception that Adobe Acrobat is the only commercial software which can produce PDF files. I have used several different applications to create PDF in my workplace and home: CutePDF, doPDF, PDFCreator,, and our company’s own EDMS. Most of the free software apps have some limitations in accessibility (most of them do not support tagged PDF) but still they are good enough to make a quick PDF file.

PDF editing

It is a bit difficult to find an easy-to-use free PDF editing software app. But we do have. PDFescape, PDFfiller and PDFVue are wonderful but free web based PDF editing, form-filling, and commenting platforms. You don’t need to install any software to edit your PDF files.

Annotation on PDF

Here is my issue as a trainer: I wanted to distribute my presentation materials or trainees’ workbook with an electronic format such as PDF. I fully agree that it is not a good idea to use only electronic format in a typical classroom, for I am not sure if learners are focusing on the training materials and not distracted. People will suffer from pain in their eyes while gazing into the screen for a long time. The biggest problem, however is they cannot enjoy adding their personal notes and writings on the electronic file in a convenient way. I googled and found two free apps: PDF-Xchange viewer and Jarnal. My choice was PDF-Xchagne viewer since Jarnal is too big and requires a tablet PC for easy use. Free version of PDF-Xchange supports most of commenting options: highlighting, typewriting, underlining, sticky note, line drawing, polygon drawing and so much. Moreover, this personalized file can be securely saved, shared, referred, searched and re-distributed thanks to the EDMS in my company.

Commenting tools in PDF-Xchange viewer

PDF workbook in the classroom

I have not tested this (PDF annotating) in a real classroom. I expect lots of obstacles, stiff resistance, repeated trials and errors from my coworkers and trainees. This is not a problem of technology but a problem of people’s habit, behavior, and tradition. I never saw any successful case in e-book business except Amazon’s Kindle. I’ll have to be very careful to practice this in the real classroom. At best, it might work in some very limited conditions. Korean government (Ministry of Education and Science) is also testing e-textbook (or digital textbook) for K12 education. We might need smarter hardware and software supporting natural viewing and writing based on intensive human behavior research.

댓글 5개:

  1. photon4/05/2009

    A nice post about PDF. I learned something I didn't know before :-)

    a couple of nits:
    You forgot to mention that TeX/LaTeX/Omega/Lambda can be used to generate PDF files. :-) A lot of mathematicians, physicists and economists generate PDF that way for their papers (see )

    And, if you're on Mac OS X, you can just print to a PDF file from any application. In the past, even the default screen capture format on Mac OS X was PDF (now it's PNG, but you can switch to PDF if you wish to).

  2. I heard that Mac OS X has a built-in PDF support, but I don't have a Mac. The Mac became more expensive in Korea recently which is quite unaffordable. Thanks for the TeX information.

  3. Hi,
    Did you come across when you were looking?

    It has a free version, but the main difference is that its all web based so you can use it where people don't want to, cant or aren't allowed to install new apps.

  4. @Robert: Thanks for the information. It looks cool!

  5. A tool that might be worth checking out is this web based annotations viewer, has source available