Gone are the days when special utilities were needed to publish PDF documents, with tools to do so increasingly available in Office and other mainstream applications. Good news for users, perhaps, but not so developers, such as Global Graphics, which has had to add extra features to its products in order to compete.

A long established PDF utility vendor, Global Graphics focuses its attention these days on two products. One (gDoc PDF Server) is an enterprise-wide PDF publishing and management solution. The other, reviewed here, is a desktop PDF converter called gDoc Fusion, which can be used to convert and merge multiple documents together more or less regardless of original format, with facilities to select and arrange pages, annotate content and do a lot more besides.

What is it and who is it for?

A Windows desktop application, gDoc Fusion can be used to perform a variety of tasks, starting with simple conversion of documents to PDF format. Some 200 different document types are supported with, along with the popular Microsoft Office formats, those used by open source applications and lots of older programs long since retired, such as WordPerfect, Lotus 1-2-3, Corel Presentations and many others.

Another key selling point is an intuitive graphical interface. Simply drag and drop the document concerned onto the gDoc Creator icon, for example, and the conversion starts automatically, with the resultant PDF immediately opened for viewing by the main gDoc Fusion application.

You don’t need the original application to read the document and the default page view within gDoc Fusion is much like opening a PDF with Acrobat Reader, but with a few extra tools added. Tools to, for example, add bookmarks, highlight text and (the MP’s favourite) redact, or black out sections you don’t want to be read.

Alternatively, the so-called Flick View allows users to scroll through pages, a bit like Cover-flow in iTunes, for faster browsing of content. Plus there’s a separate Assembly view whereby it’s possible to open multiple documents and drag pages out of each to create a new composite PDF.

As with simple conversions, source documents being merged can be in a variety of formats, so it’s perfectly feasible to combine pages from Word with those from Excel worksheets, plus slides from a presentation and existing PDFs. Likewise, the resultant composite can be saved as either a PDF or the Microsoft equivalent (XPS), with the option also of exporting to a Word document, if needed.

Pricing & setup

Individual copies of gDoc Fusion can be purchased for £100 (ex. VAT), with volume discounts available plus special pricing for academic users and public organisations. A Home and Student edition is also on offer at £65 (ex. VAT).

A fully functional trial of the software can be downloaded from the Global Graphics Web site and used for up to 30 days. If a license isn’t purchased in that time only basic document viewing and conversion tools will be available and any documents created after will be watermarked.

Separate 32-bit and 64-bit downloads are available, for use with any version of Windows from XP with (Service Pack 3) onwards. Minimum requirements are a 1.3GHz processor or faster with at least 1GB of RAM recommended.

Installation is a straightforward affair with an automated setup routine that takes just a couple of minutes to complete. If Microsoft Office is found to be present during the process, gDoc Fusion add-ons will automatically be configured for Word, Excel and PowerPoint. However, only for Office 2003 and 2007. Plug-ins to work with Office 2010 are currently being beta tested and should be available early in 2011.

Does it do it well?

We found gDoc Fusion both quick and extremely easy to use, thanks mainly to the simple drag-and-drop interface. That said, dragging and dropping isn’t always to everyone’s taste, so it was good to discover that we could also select files manually and call on the gDoc tools from within Office applications.

The range of formats supported is mind boggling—we tried lots and encountered very few failures. We were also impressed by how well formatting and content were preserved. The odd glitch did creep in now and again, the most common being wrongly emboldened text, but overall we found little to complain about. The best results came when Microsoft Office was available, gDoc using the Microsoft apps to open and ‘print’ native Office documents to PDF rather than use the built-in converter.

The ability to view documents even when you don’t have the appropriate editor is really useful, especially with the conversion to PDF usually done in seconds. Likewise, we can see lots of practical uses for the document assembler, especially where users need to extract and combine information from different departments, or external sources using a variety of applications. It’s not uncommon, for example, to request information and have it returned variously as a WP document, in a spreadsheet or as PowerPoint slides.

Bear in mind, however, that you don’t get full control over the PDF format as with Adobe Acrobat, gDoc Fusion coming somewhere between Acrobat Reader and the full application in terms of editing and formatting options.

Where does it disappoint?

Because it was released before Office 2010 was launched, the gDoc plug-in won’t install into the latest 2010 applications, which is a shame. However, the program had no difficulty handling Office 2010 documents and full support for the latest Office suite is due to be added shortly.

Rich text documents converted without a problem, but ordinary text files aren’t supported which was a little surprising and meant opening the files in Word and saving in document format before converting. The lack of a scripting facility to handle batch conversions could be a concern for some users also, although you can drag and drop batches of documents at a time onto the gDoc converter.

Lastly we couldn’t see much value in the Flick View, particularly as you’re limited in the amount of magnification available. Indeed, even when cranked up to maximum there were parts of documents which weren’t quite readable.

Would we recommend it?

We can’t see many businesses dishing out copies of gDoc Fusion to all its employees. Partly because of the cost, but mainly because it does a lot more than most of them need, which is simply to publish a PDF from Word, Excel or other Office application.

That said, gDoc Fusion does bring a lot of useful extra functionality to the PDF party. It’s a specialist rather than general purpose tool but will appeal to organisations such as colleges, public bodies and large enterprises needing to manage large numbers of documents in a variety of formats. [7]