Evince and Acrobat PDF Form Edits

Friday, April 10th, 2009 ~ 5:47 pm by Mauriat Miranda

Newer versions of Adobe Acrobat Reader have provided the feature for users to edit the contents of form fields in a PDF file. Depending on the permissions set by the author of the PDF file, Acrobat Reader will allow or deny the ability to save the file with the form edits in place. The United States IRS has allowed for this functionality in recent years in its official tax forms, which is great for people who might otherwise need to fill out forms with pen. This way a record can be saved entirely electronically.

Adobe in the past has had a hit or miss record of providing up to date versions of Acrobat Reader for Linux. (Although as of late the support has significantly improved). Open source PDF readers have typically missed some feature that Acrobat Reader supported - in this case the form field editing - which is why I still install Acrobat. However the one thing I always forget about open source applications in general is that they often rapidly improve. I just tested Evince (a PDF reader) in Fedora 10 Gnome and sure enough form editing was working fine!

Ever since I have been doing tax forms with PDF files, the nuisance I’ve had was that the State of Michigan Treasury provides their tax documents with editable fields - BUT saving the file is not permitted! Needless to say this is quite frustrating! Acrobat Reader warns the user that edits should be printed since they cannot be saved. I was using Evince when I realized that the application ignores these restrictions and saves a copy of the file with field edits in place. And the best thing: Acrobat Reader will read them and still complain I can’t change them, which is fine since my edits are there already. I was truly impressed with the open source reader, even the PDF alternatives in Windows did not do this for me.

Anyways, I was pleased with the improvements, I have been telling people for the past 2 years that I don’t use open source PDF readers since they have missing functionality! Even though the permission issue was bypassed I will still be writing to the State of Michigan to complain about the restrictions (if you are in the same position as I, please do so as well).

ps. KDE users: I tested Okular as well but the interface was a little quirky when it came to the field editing and I found the application a bit unstable. I will re-test a little later, but the basic functionality seemed to work just like Evince.

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