Using the Sun PDF Import OpenOffice extension to collaborate on PDF documents

A seldom-promoted feature of OpenOffice is the ability for users to collaborate on PDFs using the Sun PDF Import extension. It’s a fantastic way to seamlessly share and edit PDF documents, which would otherwise leave you having to send the source file and PDF around (clumsy), or rely on an Adobe Acrobat license to retro-actively edit the PDF (clumsy and expensive).

Here’s how it works. When an OpenOffice document is exported as a “hybrid” PDF, a copy of the source ODF file is embedded in the PDF. When the PDF (not the ODF) is then opened in another instance of OpenOffice with the extension installed, the source file is available for editing: a user can conveniently make changes as needed, and then export the file as a hybrid PDF for further sharing, or, as a standard PDF for end-delivery.

First, grab the Sun PDF Import Extension from here:

First thing you’ll note is that it’s a free download. I imagine the reason for this is that it’s open source, which possibly prevented Oracle from restricting it to people with USD9000 burning a hole in their back pocket.

Anyway, download the extension for the platform of your choice (I use two OpenIndiana x86 machines, and the Solaris x86 installer works just fine), and install it in OpenOffice (goto Tools -> Extension Manager):

OpenOffice Extension Manager

Now, using a new or existing OpenOffice Writer document, export a file as a PDF.

Export as a PDF

In the PDF options window that appears, tick “Create hybrid file”:

Setting PDF export options...

This will export a perfectly normal-looking PDF of your source document – no surprises here:

PDF opened in a PDF reader

However, let’s try using another machine running OpenOffice with same Sun PDF Import extension installed to open up the PDF directly, and see what happens. Simply use the standard File -> Open command in OpenOffice to open the PDF – there is no “importing” or whatever involved.

Et voila: With the extension installed, we can freely edit the PDF as an ODF file, adding new content, images…anything you can do natively in OpenOffice:

Editing a PDF file in OpenOffice

Once done, you can export the file as a hybrid PDF for further collaboration, or simply a standard PDF if you like:

Updated PDF opened in a PDF reader

Great feature, and one that’s particularly useful for people and organisations smart enough to use open source productivity applications as alternatives to the paid, proprietary status quo.


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