Ottawa PC Users' Group, Inc.
 Product Review 


Universal Document Converter 3.0
by Alan German

 

From an earlier review, Universal Document Converter - A JPG "Printer", that appeared in the June, 2003 newsletter, some of you will know that my day job relates to the in-depth investigation of motor vehicle crashes. You will also be aware that, in this increasingly electronic age, we are moving towards a paperless reporting system. Currently, we use Universal Document Converter (UDC) to produce report “pages” as a series of JPG images. Most recently, I have been considering how to eliminate paper data collection forms, along with the work associated in scanning these to create electronic versions for our E-reports, and that for the key-punching process to enter the captured information into a database.

Field investigators generally need a tool to check responses to standard questions, make notes, sketch diagrams, etc. One current possibility is to use a tablet PC. If we can find or develop software to accommodate our data collection needs, UDC would prove even more valuable since we could convert the field forms directly to JPG images and hence have a permanent record of all the relevant field notes in a form that is readily transportable. For example, on a tablet PC one could use Windows Journal as a “graphic notepad”. This program allows for the entry of both handwritten text and diagrams, together with the capability for handwriting recognition, and that of importing images (e.g. photographs) and making handwritten annotations on top of them. We already have a Visual Basic program that acts as the front-end to a database system. So, all we have to do is to combine the best of both these worlds, but that’s another story.

Given the foregoing application, when the fCoder Group invited me to review their new release (Version 3.0) of UDC, I was more than happy to load it onto my shiny new tablet PC and put it through its paces.

For anyone who didn’t read the earlier review, UDC is a driver that hooks into Windows and provides a “printer” for various applications. Selecting UDC as the output device results in the generation of an image file for each page of printed output. So, instead of printing 10 hard copy pages of a Word document, UDC produces 10 individual, in our case JPG, images of the pages of the file.

Version 3.0 of UDC was downloaded from fCoder’s site (
http://www.print-driver.com) and installed using a 27 alpha-numeric soft-key provided by the company. Sounds daunting, but cutting and pasting the key from the E-mail message into the installation dialogue box was simplicity itself. Other than the need for a reboot, the installation went without a hitch.

As with the earlier version, UDC Version 3.0 shows up as a new printer and is instantly available to Windows’ applications as a possible output device. Without configuring the print properties, my first attempt at printing a Windows Journal file was not particularly rewarding. The default image type is a multi-page, black and white TIFF file. While an interesting method of packing multiple images into a single file, this was of little help to me. Black and white didn’t do any justice to the coloured highlighting in the original file and, for some reason, didn’t reproduce the (what to me looked like) black ink on a white background. Also, I really do need individual JPG’s for compatibility with my existing E-reporting system.

Changing the image type was relatively easy through the printer’s properties and printing preferences. On the “Page Setup” tab, I noticed that the default paper size is A4, which seems an odd choice for North America (the fCoder Group has a mailing address in Virginia). However, there are lots of choices for page size and I chose letter size, the entry at the top of the list. For good measure, I also potted down the resolution from 300x300 to 150x150 dpi. While good selections for my application, my choices proved to be too hasty.

I still needed to select JPG as the output image type. One achieves this by selecting a “Current Profile”. There are two available options for colour JPG’s: (1) optimized for PowerPoint presentations or documents with colour illustrations, or (2) optimized for web pages or on-line forms. I selected the first option and found that the page size and resolution were immediately changed back to A4 and 300x300 dpi. Oh well, back to the drawing board; time to set up the desired parameters in earnest.

It turns out that there is a really good reason for predefined profiles having fixed attributes. The aim is to provide the user with a quick means of printing different images types in different situations. By setting up a series of profiles, each with different characteristics, one can rapidly switch to a particular profile for a specific application. So, I merely set up a new profile with exactly the settings I needed.

An interesting wrinkle in the learning process for the program is that there is very little help available from the Help button unless you have a live Internet connection. Most of the useful information is actually available on-line, which isn’t too much help on a free-standing tablet PC. But, even so, help files are for when something goes wrong – aren’t they? And, so far, we’re plodding along relatively nicely, figuring things out intuitively - as usual!

Checking out the available help through the Internet, it was interesting to note that the main “How to” section of the web site is not readily identified on fCoder’s web site. While it’s actually an in-line link on the “Support” page, at first glance this page seems to be just an on-line form. However, on the site’s home page, there are a number of links to specific help topics such as “How to - Print MS Word DOC into a graphics file“. Looking at the URL’s for such pages, it is easy to see that the main help page is located at:
http://www.print-driver.com/howto/word_doc.htm. Once located, the individual help pages can be seen to be nicely done, with very professional graphics indicating which buttons and menu items should be selected to accomplish a specific task. And, to be fair, both program installation and use are very intuitive, so the need for help is probably marginal for most users.

So, now more or less knowing what I was doing, printing the journal file with the new settings worked just fine and my file viewer, ACDSee, popped up to show me the results for the last page printed. Browsing the UDC output directory showed that images were present for all of the individual pages in the file and, as with the previous version of the software, these faithfully reproduced the page content.

However, disaster struck when I attempted to reprint the same file. UDC printed the first page, got half way through the second, and then hung up while it was “Performing post-print action”. I cancelled the error message and tried to print just the first page of the file. Nothing happened, so I tried again. Still nothing. Looking in the UDC printer file showed that the job that hung was still “printing”, and all the other jobs were in the queue behind it. It wasn’t possible to cancel the hung job; it just got hung up on “deleting” instead of on printing. Canceling all documents eliminated all jobs except the one that was hung. So, now I was really stuck. Rebooting the computer didn’t help, since the stalled job came back to life and hung once more. In fact, the only way out seemed to be to uninstall UDC and reinstall it, with several reboots. If anyone can suggest an elegant way to recover from such a glitch, please let me know. This method certainly isn’t pretty! (see '
Addendum' and 'Stop Press' articles below).

The problem seems to be related to having the “Post-print step” set to open the images in the default image viewer. Thinking that this might be an incompatibility with Windows XP or ACDSee, I also tried the new version of UDC with a machine running Windows 2000 and MS Picture Editor, with pretty much similar results. It turns out that if “No post-print step” is selected, such that the images have to viewed manually after printing, everything works just fine. So, this is my work-around. It’s also actually my preference. As noted earlier, one can create custom profiles, so in my customized profile, in addition to such parameters as JPG, letter size and lower image resolution, I also have “No post-print step” carefully selected!

This ability to customize the printing profile is one of the features of the new version. Other indicated changes are an enhanced user interface, faster rendering of images with improved quality, and the ability to integrate UDC into custom applications through the use of Visual Basic or Visual C++.

So, if you have an application for printouts in the form of images, UDC may well be the program for you. It’s easy to find out if this is the case as a trial version of the program is available for downloading. The program runs on most Windows platforms (98 and better), with rather modest system requirements. UDC can print only from 32-bit applications; DOS programs are not supported.

 

Bottom line:
Universal Document Converter Version 3.0
fCoder Group
US $44.95 (Personal user license – one computer)
http://www.print-driver.com/


UDC 3.0 ADDENDUM - Thawing the frozen print queue

Those of you who attended the club’s meeting in November saw an eclectic programme put on by the Board of Directors following a last-minute cancellation by the regularly scheduled speaker. The presentations included one on UDC and, in particular, a live demonstration of this utility hanging up the printer queue, along with the above-noted plaintiff request for a better solution than having to uninstall and reinstall the software. Chris Taylor immediately offered to fix the problem in a more elegant manner.

Thawing a frozen print queue

The underlying problem was that a job in the print queue failed to complete and was preventing subsequent jobs from being processed. Furthermore, when the document that was stuck in the print queue was cancelled, the deletion process itself failed to complete. The need was to clear the print queue, but if the normal Document - Cancel command isn’t functional, the question is how to do so.

The answer is to stop Windows’ print spooler service, delete the files being spooled, and restart the spooler. For Windows XP, this requires the command sequence Start – Control Panel – Performance and Maintenance – Administrative Tools – (double click) Services – Print Spooler – Stop (using the square “video-recorder” button). Now, using Windows Explorer, navigate to Windows – system32 – spool – PRINTERS, and delete all of the files in this sub-directory. Finally, go back to the Print Spooler window and start the print spooler (using the right-facing triangular “video-recorder” button).

While the solution is certainly elegant, it’s not something that would immediately spring to mind to those of us who are Windows-challenged. So, thanks once again to Chris, our very own Windows guru, for sharing his in-depth knowledge and expertise.


STOP PRESS! Frozen Print Queue Fixed in version 3.1

A copy of the article on UDC 3.0 was sent to the fCoder Group so that they could ensure that there were no errors in the technical material. When they didn' t respond, it was assumed that there were no complaints and the review was submitted for publication. However, before our hard-working Editor could output the PDF file, fCoder released Version 3.1 (11 Nov, 2004) of UDC. The company's web site notes the update as: "Added feature allowing to install and use Universal Document Converter as network printer." From a quick review of the demonstration version of the new release, it is also evident that the post-print step problem noted above has been fixed. So, we like to think that we can chalk one up for the (hidden) power of the Ottawa PC Users ' Group!


Copyright and Usage
Ottawa Personal Computer Users Group (OPCUG), Inc.
3 Thatcher Street, Ottawa, ON  K2G 1S6

The opinions expressed in these reviews may not necessarily
represent the views of the OPCUG or its members.