Adobe Acrobat is a comprehensive application for creating and editing Portable Document Format (PDF) files, but it’s as proprietary as the format itself, and it sure is expensive software. If you’re looking for an alternative that offers much of Acrobat’s functionality in an open source package, try PDF Split and Merge, a desktop utility written in Java and designed to manipulate PDF files. It provides only a subset of Acrobat’s functionality, but for many personal and corporate users, what PDF Split and Merge offers is enough.
“The original idea,” says developer Andrea Vacondio, “was to create a simple utility to split and merge PDF documents. Several years ago, while writing my bachelor’s degree thesis, I needed a tool to merge the chapters, and I couldn’t find any open source one. The initial two simple features to split and merge PDF documents have now grown to 12 plugins to split, merge, decrypt, encrypt, rotate, mix, set metadata, visually compose, and more. Except for the original split and merge plugins, all the other functionality comes from users’ suggestions. I recommend that anyone who is interested in PDF Split and Merge drop a comment on the official forum; I review and answer almost all comments daily.”
Since late 2005, Vacondio says he has spent almost every weekend working on the application. “It’s my hobby and my sandbox, where I can apply and test frameworks, libraries, and patterns that I can’t usually use or explore at work. I develop using mostly an open source environment (Ubuntu, Eclipse, Ant).”
Vacondio says many people have contributed to the project “with ideas, money, translations, and documentation. Now PDF Split and Merge has two or three thousand downloads per day. It has some income from donations and advertisement, enough to pay for the web hosting of the official website and some free beer during the weekend.
“I keep working on it because it’s really motivating and makes me proud to see so much interest in something that I built from scratch. The community is supporting and pushing me all the time. It’s a really good feeling to wake up in the morning and find a forum post saying, ‘Hey man, you saved my job yesterday with your software, thanks!'”
Thanks to its open source nature, the project has attracted many contributors and built a strong community. In fact, Vacondio says, some people paid to start the development of two custom plugins that then became available to the whole community and which are now actively supported. As for the app as a whole, Vacondio says he tries to release improved versions of PDF Split and Merge three or four times per year, addressing both bug fixes and feature requests.