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Pros and cons of using an online PDF editor

Everyone wants a cheaper and easy-to-use online PDF solution, which is why searches for “online pdf editor” on Google are growing rapidly. Take a look at the graph below:

online pdf editor trend


What’s driving the rapid growth of interest in online PDF tools? Simply put, there are many good reasons to choose an online tool over desktop PDF software:

  • An online PDF editor is usually cheaper than buying desktop software. Desktop software that is good enough to meet the editing needs of a typical user costs between $150 and $500. While there are cheaper (and even free) desktop software products, they usually aren’t very good. Online solutions are either free or charge $5 - $20 a month and also offer pay-as-you-go prices. For most users, this is cheaper than buying desktop software.
  • Using an online tool is much faster than downloading software. Software products from leading vendors like Adobe or Nitro are large in size, and take a long time to install. For a large number of users who need to do pretty basic PDF editing, a web product can meet their needs quickly and efficiently. Who wants to wait for 15 minutes to install a 1GB product on their computer?
  • You can use an online solution on any device, and not just one desktop computer. Unlike desktop software, buying an online PDF editor means you have access to your files (usually hosted in the cloud) and an editing tool at all times. As long as you have access to the internet, you can get your work done.
  • Online PDF tools have come a long way in recent years. Even a few years ago, there were hardly any web-based PDF solutions. The ones that did exist barely worked or were filled with highly intrusive ads. Thankfully, there has been a large number of new online PDF editors that have launched (such as DocFly!), and these new startups are becoming more competitive versus their desktop competitors. The other interesting development in this area is the growth of very good online PDF to Word conversion providers (which solves a lot of PDF editing headaches).

Despite the rise of online PDF tools, the current state of the industry means that web-based solutions can’t solve everyone’s needs. There are still areas today where desktop software products hold the advantage. This is particularly true in the large enterprise space. These drawbacks have been outlined below:

  • You can’t directly edit text using an online PDF tool. This is the #1 issue facing online editors today, and is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. Directly editing the text inside a PDF requires significant computing power, and this isn’t possible today in the browser. I don’t think this will be possible for at least another few years.
  • Creating PDFs with rich media (e.g. video, surveys) or PDF forms is much easier using desktop software. For creating sophisticated PDFs that include forms or rich media, online PDF editors simply aren’t sufficient. While online tools excel at simple tasks like Excel to PDF and Word to PDF conversion, I have yet to see an online PDF solution that can help create anything beyond simple PDFs.
  • Large businesses don’t want their private data hosted online. Based on my personal research, I have yet to see any online PDF tool that has adopted international data privacy standards for documents uploaded onto their service. For large organizations handling sensitive data such as legal contracts, they require their data to be safeguarded based on well-recognized standards. As this is a relatively simple problem to solve, I expect online vendors to provide improve data privacy in the future in order to target enterprise clients.