Printing in Windows 8

We’ve started getting questions about printing in Windows 8 and if Win2PDF will work with the latest version of Microsoft’s operating system.  The short answer is yes* and we have a pre-release version available today.  We’ll have an official release available once Windows 8 is officially released.

*Except for Windows 8 RT – the version of Windows 8 for ARM-based devices.

UPDATE (10/25/2012):  Win2PDF 7.5 is now available and it officially supports Windows 8

Today’s post will be an overview of what’s different about printing with Windows 8, and how that will affect Win2PDF users specifically.

1)  What is Windows 8?

Windows 8 is the latest operating system from Microsoft (following Windows 7) and it has been specially adapted to support a greater array of hardware devices, especially touch screen tablets, laptops, and desktop monitors.

While the underlying operating system is built on the Windows 7 foundation, Windows 8 is going present some changes for most users (at least in terms of interface).  This is particularly true when it comes to printing.  And since Win2PDF installs a printer, this interface change will be noticed by Win2PDF users.

2)  Windows 8 and Printing

Windows 8 introduces a new architecture for printers.  This architecture change won’t greatly affect the way Win2PDF works from the end-user’s perspective so we won’t go into the details here.  But, if you’re interested,you can read an in-depth overview from Microsoft’s developer blog.

Window 8 also introduces a completely new application interface for many software programs, something they refer to as Windows 8 style apps.  (This interface style was formerly known as Metro style apps, but Microsoft has since discontinued the use of this term). This will be a tiled, full-screen interface that works for all computers but optimized for tablet computing and touch-screen laptops/ultrabooks/displays.  Windows 8 will also support the more traditional desktop apps, which is the same interface most applications used in Windows 7 or Windows XP.

3) Win2PDF Support

The good news is that we do have a version that currently works with Windows 8 (both desktop and Windows 8 style apps) and it can be downloaded from our Win2PDF hotfix download page.

Once Windows 8 is officially released by Microsoft, we’ll have a version that officially supports it directly on our main download page.  There will not be a charge to upgrade to the Windows 8 compatible version of Win2PDF for users of Win2PDF 7 or above.

Lastly, Microsoft introduced a version of the operating system called Windows 8 RT, which is the operating system used on ARM-based computers.  This version of Windows 8 will only work with Windows 8 style apps that are either pre-installed or that are available through the Microsoft app store.  Win2PDF will not support Windows 8 RT at the time of the Windows 8 official release.

4)  Printing to PDF using Win2DPF in Windows 8

To use Win2PDF with desktop apps, not much has changed.  Here’s a short video that shows Win2PDF creating a PDF file from a desktop app (or see our Win2PDF support page on this topic):

To use Win2PDF with Windows 8 style apps is a bit different.  Here is a short video that shows Win2PDF creating a PDF file from a Windows 8 style app (or see our Win2PDF support page on this topic):

The key differences with printing to Windows 8 style apps are:

  1. Printers are accessed as Devices, which can be found in the Charm bar.  You can access the Charm bar by moving the cursor to the right side of the screen and swiping up in a Windows 8 style app.
  2. From Devices, you choose the printer named ‘Win2PDF’ and then print.  Immediately after printing, you will receive a notification in the upper right corner of the screen.  “The printer requires your attention.  Go to the desktop to take care of it.
  3. Click on this notification.  This will bring you to the desktop where you will see the normal Win2PDF file save window.
  4. Then you can set the file name and and save the PDF as you normally would.  If you click ‘View PDF’ and your default PDF viewer is a Windows 8 style app, then it will open up back in the Windows 8 full screen interface.

Video tutorials and online support

A few weeks ago 60 Minutes ran a story about Khan Academy, a non-profit web site started by Sal Khan, who initially created online video lessons to help tutor his niece in math.  Before long,  others were following his video guides on YouTube and now the web site he helped start is one of the major online learning hubs on the internet.

As software developers, one of the issues we frequently encounter – especially in technical support – is how to explain things in simple terms so that even inexperienced computer users can understand our product and how to make it work.

Over the years we’ve expanded our online documentation and knowledgebase to include a lot of information on how to do different things and trouble-shoot problems, but now we are starting to add screen capture video to help explain the basic uses for Win2PDF.  Here’s an example of a basic screen capture video that we used to describe how to create a simple PDF file.

For the video tutorial creation, we’ve played around with several different software packages and we’re currently using Camtasia Studio from TechSmith.  So far it seems to work for our purposes.

The home for these new video tutorials will be our Win2PDF YouTube channel.  Add it to your favorites in YouTube, or watch this space as we continue to add more tutorials.

PDF/A – the PDF file for Archiving

Since we added PDF/A support in our most recent Win2PDF 7 release, we’ve had some questions about this new type of PDF file.  First, the basics.

What is PDF/A?

It’s basically a subset of the PDF file format used to archive data for long-term storage (the A stands for PDF/Archive).  It is an ISO standard (ISO 19005-1:2005) that does not need to depend on external programs or information to be displayed, all information is entirely self contained.  It does not permit the inclusion of any executable scripts, audio, video and/or encryption.  In contrast, a regular PDF file may substitute fonts (because not all fonts are saved in the original file), and may have these other types of data “linked” within the PDF file, but not “contained” within the PDF file.

For a longer description, please check out the Wikipedia entry on PDF/A.

Why is it increasingly being used in government (and courts in particular)?

  1. It’s an ISO standard file format.  Regardless of what application creates the PDF/A file, all PDF/A files will conform to the same rules.  Which is good for…
  2. Archiving.  Since these files are self contained buckets of information, the file will be able to be viewed in the future and look exactly as it did when it was created. If the PDF file linked to external information, there is no guarantee that information would be accessible in the future.
  3. It’s more secure and readily accessible.  Again, since it doesn’t allow encryption  it keeps the document accessible, and since it doesn’t allow external links to data sources, it prevents security exploits.  And finally…
  4. It’s mandated in many situations.  The Administrative Office of the US Courts identified the potential risk of not being able to reliably access archived digital files in the future in 2010.  Since then, many district Courts  now mandate the PDF/A standard for court documents.  It is also mandated by law in several European countries.

There’s other interesting information on the Legal Case for PDF/A from the PDF Association’s web site (www.pdfa.org).

How do I make a PDF/A file?

With Win2PDF 7,  just select “PDF for Archiving (PDF/A)” as the Win2PDF file save type.  [Update:  Win2PDF will create a file that complies with the PDF/A-1b standard)].  It will still have a .pdf file extension, and it is just as easy to create a PDF/A file as it is to create a normal PDF file.

Win2PDF Save As PDF/A
Win2PDF file save window - Save as PDF/A

How do I know Win2PDF has created a PDF/A file?

First, make sure you have the latest version of Adobe Reader installed.  Then, open the PDF file and you’ll see a notice in Adobe Reader that states:  “The file you have opened complies with the PDF/A standard and has been opened read-only to prevent modification.”

PDF/A file in Adobe Reader
PDF/A file in Adobe Reader

Signed, Sealed, Delivered – Digital Signatures vs. Electronic Signatures

We frequently get questions about our product (Win2PDF) and its support of digital signatures.  While we have investigated adding this as a feature, there are many variations in implementation and some general misunderstandings of what “digital signatures” really are that makes it difficult to provide a universal solution to this problem.

Generally, when people speak of ‘signing a document’ they mean to apply some form of electronic signature to the PDF, and this can be done either simply (typically called an electronic signature), or in a way that is more advanced (typically called a digital signature).  A brief explanation of both:

  • An electronic signature is a general method of signing an electronic document, and it typically works by associating a marker (such as a .JPG representation of a person’s hand-written signature) to a PDF file. An electronic signature is easy to implement, but also offers fewer protections and can be easier to forge.
  • digital signature is a more sophisticated implementation of electronic signatures that associates an encrypted “fingerprint” on a PDF file. This “fingerprint” is unique to both the document and the signer and ensures the authenticity of the signer. If the PDF is changed after it is signed, it invalidates the signature.  Generally, it is a more secure method of protecting the integrity of a signed PDF file.

If you’re interested, more details can be found at this FAQ about digital signatures.

There are several different approaches to signing PDF files, and different organizations may require different levels of sophistication in their files.  A legal document sent by a lawyer, for example, may have a more stringent requirement for authentication than, say, a document that just needs an ‘sign-off’ by a manager for a particular internal process.

So, which version will you need?  That will require some more investigation on the type of solution that best fits your business needs.  One interesting recent development is that the latest version of Adobe Reader has announced some native support for “electronic signatures”.  While this isn’t an advanced digital signature solution it may suffice for many users.  And because the basic signing capability is included with Adobe Reader the implementation is easy.

Adobe acquired Echosign (a company specializing in signature technology) in July of 2011, and earlier this month they announced that the native Echosign functionality was included in the latest Adobe Reader application.  This integration will allow users to electronically sign any document in Adobe Reader (with a new “Sign” button) and then send the document out for others to sign through the Echosign web site.  Here’s a screen shot of the new Adobe Reader interface.

Adobe digital signature screen shot
Adobe Digital Signature

There are some free capabilities for a single user, but to effectively use this electronic signature capability within an organization requires a subscription to Echosign.

This is an interesting development for many users, but it still may not be the right solution for all companies.  Other companies offering digital signature solutions include IdentrustAppligent, Arx, and DocuSign.

Back to the discussion of incorporating the digital signature feature into Win2PDF?  Well, because of the variety of solutions available, and the different requirements for different organizations, we’ve found it best to provide a method to integrate with other solutions instead of trying to create a solution that will fit every user’s needs.  We do this by providing a mechanism to a launch an external application after creating the PDF file with Win2PDF.

Actually, if you are interested in this Win2PDF mechanism, send an e-mail to [email protected] and ask for more details.  We have a Win2PDF Admin Utility that can make this a little easier, but we don’t have it fully documented…  yet.

Signing off…