I have to tell you all about a really cool PDF creation program I discovered called YAFPC. YAFPC stands for "Yet Another Free PDF Creator" and it can be free as the core parts are all available as open source software.
However, the author has also created an 'Appliance' version. Which means you can run the server from a CD, Memory Stick, or even a VMWare* appliance and turn an old server into a PDF creator - used simply by users connecting to it's virtual printers and printing documents in the normal way.
On you own PC you can use a piece of software called Ghostscript to do that. What the YAFPC appliance does though is act as a print server on your network so you only need to set it up once for all of your users to use. When you print to it, you have options to make it Email the PDF to you and/or put it in a folder you can see on your Windows network. What's really clever is that it needs no configuration to know who to email, it works out your email address from your Windows Log-in name. Even the folder visible on the windows network is visible as the users name! It took me all of 10 minutes to turn an old PC into a working PDF creation server on our network. The total cost of this software is just \$50 (USD) - about 30. Note, you are not paying for the open source parts of the software, just the bit that joins them all together on an operation system that will run from a CD all configured and ready to run.
There's more though. You can set up as many virtual PDF printers as you like, so as well as a plain white A4 PDF printer I set up a Letterhead Printer - you can create a quote and it uses a PDF version of our letterhead as the background. Therefore when we email quotes to customers it still has the professional looking formatting and brand image we spent so long working on.
This PDF Quote was created using the YAFPC Network appliance. (PDF File - 730Kb). This is an amazing piece of software - well worth investigating if you want to create PDF's in an office.
One thing to say about PDF's in general. The format of PDF was created by Adobe but they published it as an open format which is why you don't need Adobe software to read or create PDF's. The PDF format is now more than just a way of creating a fixed document. Current Adobe PDF software will let you allow people to make comments on your document and send them back to you so you can combine comments in one view (without them changing your document of course). However, most people create a single fixed document
*VMWare is a program that lets you run other operation systems on top of your current operation system. Therefore you can have a server running Windows XP, and VMWare will let you host "Virtual Machines" that could be running Linux, Solaris, Windows XP, Windows 3.1, DOS - anything! You can also run as many Virtual Machines as you want, configuring them to use Virtual networks within the machine or have their own IP address on your network (all sharing the hosts network card). This is clever as it lets you use one piece of hardware to run multiple servers, saving buying more hardware and also letting you separate different server roles across virtual machines. EG you can have an Email Virtual Server and a Web Proxy Virtual server, so any problems with the web proxy server wont affect the Email Virtual server. Cool eh! Better still, VMWare are trialling a FREE version of their VMWare Server program which will let you use hundreds of ready built appliances for FREE! So YAFPC can run on the server you already have without you having to alter any configuration settings. You can also create your own Virtual Servers if you buy VMWare workstation (which I already have as it means I can test software without having to re-install windows every 3 months). One day, I'll write more about how I use VMWare, it's on that ever growing list of things to post about