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Using the Muhimbi PDF Converter to generate FDA / eCTD valid documents

Posted at: 11:53 on 27 July 2015 by Muhimbi

FDAOur popular PDF Converter for SharePoint and PDF Converter Services (for Java, C#, PHP, Ruby), as well as the PDF Converter for SharePoint Online / Office 365 is used in almost any imaginable industry. Local and federal government, financial industry, retail, engineering, space exploration etc. Some of these industries have pretty strict requirements when it comes to submitting or archiving documents.

One of the industries that specify such requirements is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In their specifications for Providing Regulatory Submissions in Electronic Format — Certain Human Pharmaceutical Product Applications and Related Submissions Using the eCTD Specifications they list the following requirements. 

  • PDF versions 1.4 through 1.7, PDF/A-1 and PDF/A-2: We support all these versions, and more, and can even convert existing PDF files to PDF 1.1 – 1.7 as well as PDF/A1b & A2b for long term archiving.
  • Do not activate security settings or password protection: Although we support a range of PDF Security, Restriction and encryption facilities. The FDA’s recommendation is to not apply any security to the generated documents.
  • Fully embed all non-standard fonts:  Embedding or stripping of embedded fonts is fully supported by our software. Even better, just use PDF/A output which automatically takes care of most requirements.
  • Avoid image-based PDF files whenever possible: Image based content can be hard to read on screen and – even worse – is not searchable. As a result people cannot copy its contents or find it using whatever search engine they happen to use. When dealing with image based content such as scans and faxes, use our Optical Character Recognition (OCR) abilities to automatically recognise all text and include it in the PDF file.
  • Optimize the PDF for fast web view: Many PDF files are accessed via the internet. To prevent long downloads, PDF files can be Linearized / Optimised for fast web view. This reduces the loading time of the initial pages considerably.
  • Table of contents (TOC): The ability to merge multiple files is probably the second most used feature provided by our software. However, the result of a merge operation may result in a document that is hundreds of pages long, which can make navigation a bit difficult. Our software automatically adds PDF bookmarks to ease navigation, but even better can automatically generate a full featured Table Of Contents.
  • Initial View Settings: Making sure that the PDF is displayed in the most optimal manner when the document is opened removes the effort from the end user and reduces the need for training. Naturally we fully support this
  • Page Numbering: Especially in large documents, page numbering is extremely important. Most documents already contain page numbers, but when merging multiple documents together these page numbers do not reflect the reality. Use our extensive watermarking facilities to automatically calculate and display page numbers

If you have any questions then please leave a comment below or contact our friendly support desk, we love to talk to our customers.

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Introducing the new High-Fidelity InfoPath converter

Posted at: 18:21 on 16 July 2015 by Muhimbi

infopath_L1We like to throw in a wildcard every once in a while, functionality that no-one has asked for, but we think our customers will really like. This tends to work out very well, for example the time we decided to provide a lot of flexibility around copying of SharePoint meta-data. Another one of those crazy wild-cards was support for the conversion of InfoPath forms to PDF, XLS, HTML and DOC. InfoPath is pretty obscure, right? Microsoft has even retired it, who needs a converter, who even cares? EVERYONE! A surprising number of people want to convert and archive InfoPath files, and for great reasons as well.

Over the years we have added many popular facilities to the InfoPath converter including the ability to convert InfoPath attachments and the ability to dynamically control which InfoPath view to use for PDF conversion. There was only one problem though, as Microsoft stopped caring about InfoPath, they slowly but surely crippled its PDF output abilities. It all started with the introduction of Internet Explorer 9 and was made worse with the introduction of Windows Server 2012 and InfoPath 2013. Out of the box, and completely unrelated to our software, InfoPath doesn’t even include content of checkboxes in a PDF, and that is just one of the smaller problems.

Our support desk is always happy to assist those customers who, for reasons beyond their control, cannot downgrade Internet Explorer or switch Windows versions. More often than not this resulted in solutions that worked well enough, but…. ughhh… horrible hacks, loads of support hours wasted, non-intuitive solutions, this has to stop…. and, as of today, it has!

 

Version 8.0 of the PDF Converter for SharePoint, PDF Converter Services (for Java, C#, PHP, Ruby) as well as our PDF Converter for SharePoint Online comes with a brand new InfoPath converter. It still supports all the cool features of the previous converter, but the generated PDF files look much, MUCH, better, they basically look identical to what comes out of the printer.

The key improvements are:

  • ‘Printer like’ output.
  • Images & logos are displayed in high resolution.
  • Border colors and thickness are correct.
  • ‘Phantom’ grey borders are a thing of the past.
  • Page size can be controlled in detail.
  • Page orientation can be controlled in detail.

The last 2 options are particular important for forms that have been designed with SharePoint’s Forms Services in mind. Although those forms are created in InfoPath as well, and can be converted using our software just fine, these forms typically don’t specify a page size or orientation. The new PDF Converter automatically picks up these settings when they ARE defined in the form, but when the information is missing it will try to substitute it. These settings can be overridden globally or at the individual conversion level.

 

Before & AfterBefore (left) and after (right). Click to zoom in and look at those horrible borders and image quality in detail.

 

Although the default values suffice for most situations, the following entries can be controlled via the conversion service’s configuration file. For details about how to edit this file see this article..

  • InfoPathConverterFullFidelity.UseNativePrintEngine: This setting controls which InfoPath converter is used, the legacy one (false) or the new high-fidelity one (true). This setting is automatically populated with the option selected during installation.
  • InfoPathConverterFullFidelity.DefaultPaperSize: The output paper size to use for InfoPath views without a specified printer / paper size. This does not change the paper size for views where that information IS specified. Leave this setting empty to take the value from the default printer or specify a named format such as 'A4' or 'Letter' (Full list of accepted paper sizes). PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS VALUE IS CASE SENSITIVE.
  • InfoPathConverterFullFidelity.ForcePaperSize: Force the paper size, regardless of the printer / paper size being present in the definition of the InfoPath view.
  • InfoPathConverterFullFidelity.DefaultPageOrientation: The Page orientation for InfoPath views that don't explicitly specify a printer / paper size. Either 'Portrait' or 'Landscape'. Leave empty to let InfoPath decide.
  • InfoPathConverterFullFidelity.ForcePageOrientation: Force the page orientation regardless of the printer / paper size being present in the definition of the InfoPath view

 

The easiest way to enable the new InfoPath converter is to do so during the setup process, for details see this blog post.

In order to use the new InfoPath converter on 64 bit systems, please install the 64 bit version of Office / InfoPath. 32 bit Windows versions work fine with the 32 bit version of Office / InfoPath.

If you are still on Windows Server 2003 then we don’t judge you, but you will need to contact our support desk to request assistance with the deployment of the new InfoPath converter as after 12 years… well… things have moved on a bit.

 

Any questions or feedback? Leave a comment below or contact us, we love talking to our customers.

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Muhimbi PDF Converter - New Setup experience

Posted at: 15:29 on 06 July 2015 by Muhimbi

At the time of writing our range of Server Side PDF Conversion and Automation based products, including the Muhimbi PDF Converter for SharePoint and the Muhimbi PDF Converter Services (for Java, .NET, PHP, Ruby) have been in the market for over 7 years. Although our setup experience has always been fine, it has never been excellent. Being excellent is something we strive for so we have dug through our historical support desk tickets to determine the worst pain points and address them as part of the new installation ‘experience’.

Carrying out a full deployment still requires some work and preparation – the entire product is a bit ‘enterprisey’ - getting the proper Windows account in place, granting privileges and installing some prerequisites, these steps are explained in detail in Chapter 2 of our comprehensive Administration Guide. Do yourself, and our support desk, a monumental favour and read that chapter in full. You will save yourself a lot of time and frustration.

 

Let’s walk through a typical deployment and highlight some of the decision points. The screenshots and process below is based on the PDF Converter for SharePoint. Being less complex, the PDF Converter Services setup process is largely the same, it just lacks some of the SharePoint specific screens (and that installer uses a yellow background colour so it is immediately clear which product you are installing).

Naturally the first step is to download the free trial version. Once downloaded run setup.exe, resulting in the following screen. This screen allows for the Administration Guide to be opened in your PDF Reader, open it and start reading at chapter 2. We know you don’t want to read manuals, but it will save you time later.

Screen1

 

Click Next to continue, read the boring but essential license agreement and accept the terms to continue. You can even print it and use it as wallpaper, everyone is a winner.

Screen2

 

The following screen only applies to the PDF Converter for SharePoint and provides the following three options. Please read our blog post about typical deployment scenarios to learn more about how highly scalable products like the Muhimbi PDF Converter are typically deployed. When executing the installer on a machine that is not part of a SharePoint farm then the SharePoint related options will be disabled.

  1. Install the Conversion Service on this system and the SharePoint front-end on the entire farm: This is the recommended option for most installations providing the installer is being executed on a single server SharePoint farm or on one of the App servers. This option deploys the conversion service (a Windows service that does all the heavy processing work) on the current server and pushes the SharePoint ‘WSP’ file out to all SharePoint servers.
  2. Install only the Conversion Service on this computer: Use this option to install only the conversion service on the current system, and skip the deployment of the SharePoint WSP files. This is a good option when installing the conversion service on a system that is not part of a SharePoint farm, or if you are not yet ready to deploy the SharePoint front-end software.
  3. Install the SharePoint front-end on the entire farm: This option must be executed on only one of the SharePoint servers. It automatically pushes the SharePoint WSP to all servers in the farm. When selecting this option you will be asked to specify the name of the server that will host (or already hosts) the conversion service. Doing so will automatically update the location of the conversion service in our Central Administration screen.

 

screen3

 

If the conversion service is being deployed as part of the current installation then use the following screen to specify the path to deploy it to. It is recommended to accept the default path, or just change the drive letter. It will work fine in other locations, but it may make troubleshooting more difficult.

screen4

 

Providing the conversion service is being deployed as part of the current installation process, you will be asked to specify the name of the Windows account the conversion service will run under. This may be a local machine account (in that case leave the domain name empty) or a domain account (please enter the domain in the separate field). This account must be a member of the local Administrators group and does not require any other special settings. Unless specified otherwise, the account will be granted ‘Log on as a Service’ rights automatically.

screen5

 

Now, this is where it (finally) gets interesting. As mentioned previously, there are some prerequisites you must get in place, as described in Chapter 2 of the Administration Guide. The installer will check that all these prerequisites are indeed in place and highlight any problem areas with a red X. If any warnings are displayed then you may continue with the installation process and address, or ignore, them after the installation completes. However, for the best experience you should close the installer, address any issues, restart the installer and check that the problems have been resolved.

screen6

 

Depending on your exact needs, and providing you are deploying the conversion service, you may want to change the following settings in the next screen:

  1. Open TCP Port 41734 on the Windows Firewall: In a multi-server farm it is essential that the front end servers can communicate with the conversion server. The installer can open the correct port automatically, but please take into account that this only works for a basic Windows Firewall installation. When deploying the software in an environment with a different firewall or when the firewall is automatically configured and locked down, you may need to open this port manually.
  2. Disable the Loopback Check: In certain cases a security feature in Windows makes it difficult to connect to a server by machine name, this is known as the Loopback Check. Providing this option is enabled (the default option in Windows) you can use the installer to disable this check. If this option is already disabled (perhaps by an administrator or another process) then you will not be able to change it using the Muhimbi installer. This prevents interoperability problems with other software. If you wish to change this setting by hand then see this blog post.
  3. Download and install Ghostscript: Some functionality provided by the Muhimbi PDF Converter leverages a technology known as Ghostscript. If you expect to carry out conversions to PDF/A, conversions between different PDF versions or use the recently introduced high fidelity InfoPath converter then you should select this option. The installer will download and install Ghostscript automatically, but if the server you are deploying the conversion service on does not have internet connectivity, which is quite common in data centres, then you have the option to download and install Ghostscript manually. Providing it is installed in the default path (on any of the system’s drives) the PDF Converter will automatically detect it.

 

screen7

 

Our range of PDF Converters provide support for some less than common file formats including Microsoft InfoPath. (Microsoft has discontinued support so start archiving to PDF). Microsoft has slowly crippled InfoPath PDF support over the past few years so if you are running a Windows version newer than Windows Server 2008R2 or an Internet Explorer version newer than version 9, you will find that InfoPath PDF output does not work very well. On those systems, as well as other systems, it is highly recommend to enable our new converter. The only reason to use the ‘Legacy Converter’ is if you already use the Muhimbi PDF Converter in your environment to convert InfoPath to PDF and everything is working well. If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it.

Please note that the new InfoPath converter requires Ghostscript to be installed on the system running the conversion service (see the previous screen). In order to use the new InfoPath converter on 64 bit systems, please install the 64 bit version of Office / InfoPath. 32 bit Windows versions work fine with the 32 bit version of Office / InfoPath.

screen8

 

If you already have a license key then specify its location in the following screen. To install the trial version there is no need to specify a license file. If you have a license for the PDF Converter Professional add-on license then please copy that license file to the path the conversion service is being deployed to. Once the conversion service has been deployed you will find a handy shortcut to this folder in the Windows Start Menu.

screen9

 

That is it, the installer will now deploy the selected components and configure the local system in line with the specified settings. This may take a couple of minutes.

screen10

 

If all went well you will see the following screen. Congratulations, you have done it, woohooooo!

screen11

 

Providing you are installing the SharePoint front-end as part of the current installation process, our Central Administration screen will be opened automatically. Use this screen to configure the system further or execute a validation test to check that everything is indeed working as expected. If you encounter any problems with the validation process then please see this Knowledge Base article.

screen12

 

We recommend using Central Admin’s Solution Management screen to verify that the SharePoint WSP files were deployed without errors or warnings. The following WSP files are typically deployed.

  1. muhimbi.pdfconverter.*.wsp:  This WSP contains the main PDF Converter facilities.
  2. muhimbi.licensing.*.wsp:  The Muhimbi License Manager.
  3. muhimbi.pdfconverter.workflowmanager.*.wsp:  Deployed on SharePoint 2013 (and newer) systems only. This WSP file contains the workflow actions for the new ‘Workflow Manager’ based workflows.

 

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Once it has been confirmed that everything is installed correctly, you may want to enable or disable various SharePoint Features related to the Muhimbi PDF Converter. A full list of all SharePoint Features can be found in the SharePoint Administration Guide, but some of the key ones are:

  1. Muhimbi PDF Converter: Enable the main PDF Converter user interface and activate the workflow activities for SharePoint Designer and SharePoint 2010 workflows. This Feature is enabled by default.
  2. Muhimbi PDF Converter – Automatic PDF Processing User Interface: Enable the user interface for the real-time watermarking and security facility. Please enable Muhimbi PDF Converter – Automated PDF Processor before enabling this Feature.
  3. Muhimbi PDF Converter – Automated PDF Processor: Enable the module that controls real-time processing.
  4. Muhimbi PDF Converter – Nintex Workflow Integration: Enable Nintex Workflow integration.

 

screen14

 

 

Upgrading from a pre-8.0 version.

If you currently have a version of the Muhimbi PDF Converter installed, a version older than 8.0, then please uninstall that version manually before installing version 8.0. Before starting the uninstallation process have a look at the Upgrading section in the Administration Guide to make sure you don’t lose any changes that may have been made by manually adjusting various files.

  1. Uninstall SharePoint Front-End: Manually retract and remove the WSP files from Central Administration or run the uninstall.cmd scripts that ship alongside the version of the PDF Converter that is currently installed. Please make sure that both the PDF Converter and License Manager WSPs are uninstalled.
  2. Uninstall Conversion Service: Use Windows’ Add or Remove Programs facility to uninstall the conversion service.

 

Leave questions or comments below, or contact our friendly support desk, we love to help.

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