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Flash, PDF get a helping hand

The RoboPDF software release aims to make it easy for ordinary folks to convert files to PDF, while a Laszlo development tool is designed to convert Web applications into Flash on the fly.

A pair of small software makers hopes to extend two of the most widespread computing standards--PDF and Flash--by taking new approaches to development.

San Diego-based EHelp on Monday released a new version of RoboPDF, an application intended to allow ordinary office workers and consumers to quickly convert documents into PDF (portable document format), the widespread electronic publishing format created by Adobe Systems.

Also Monday, server software start-up Laszlo Systems introduced its first products, which are designed to allow developers to create Web content based on Macromedia's Flash animation format without learning complex Flash development tools.

Both products compete with development tools sold by the companies that originated the formats. In the case of RoboPDF, that means with Adobe's recently updated family of Acrobat publishing products.

R.J. Jacquez, product manager for EHelp, said the company saw a need for a simple tool that would allow regular office workers to easily convert documents to PDF files. Such files are more compact for transferring by e-mail and can be read by any device loaded with the free Adobe Reader software. RoboPDF 3.0 lets workers convert a file to PDF simply by right-clicking on it and provides e-mail tools that integrate with Microsoft's Outlook, according to EHelp.

"We're just coming in to make PDF more approachable," Jacquez said. "Anybody who needs to e-mail documents--somebody looking for a job who needs to send out resumes, for instance--can benefit from using PDF. But they may think of PDF output as something only professional people can do."

Adobe itself has tackled such low-level PDF output needs with Acrobat Elements, a new low-end version of Acrobat. But the Elements product is only available to businesses that purchase at least 1,000 software licenses.

An individual version of RoboPDF costs $49, and the price drops to $4 per license for a 1,000-license purchase. EHelp offers a free home version for consumers.

A Flash short cut?
Laszlo's products work with Flash, the widespread animation format created by Macromedia that is gradually morphing into a general-purpose tool for designing slick, easy-to-navigate Web pages.

Laszlo Presentation Server aims to let developers create Web applications using JavaScript and other common programming languages. The server software takes this code and converts it into the Flash format on the fly.

The upshot, according to Laszlo, is that developers can have the benefits of creating Flash-based pages--such as the elimination of page refreshes and the seamless integration of video content--without having to learn the complex set of development tools sold by Macromedia.

"The end result is very similar to what a Flash guru might attain, but the development process is infinitely more achievable to your average Web professional," said David Temkin, founder and chief technology offier at Laszlo. "We've tried to lower the hurdles...The developer doesn't have to know the microdetails of Flash at all. We take care of it by using Flash as a rendering format."

Home improvement specialist Behr has already built a slick, interactive site based on Laszlo's server software. The San Francisco-based software company hopes to engage more developers at this week's JavaOne developers conference in San Francisco.

Laszlo Presentation Server is available in three editions--a free Developers Edition, a subscription-based Enterprise Edition starting at quarterly rate of $4,500 for each server CPU the software runs on and a light-duty Express Edition priced at a flat $1,000 per CPU.