Towards the “Paperless Office”

I’m old enough to remember when computers were going to store all our data, and usher in the “paperless office”. We weren’t going to need paper files anymore, because digital storage was going to make that all obsolete.

Well, here it is, decades later, and I still have a file cabinet at my office. And while I carry most of my blank forms on a USB stick, they still need to be printed out and given to clients – either for signatures, or because there’s still no standard way to distribute or deliver electronic data (even making forms available on the web usually means someone prints them locally. This may save an envelope and a stamp, but there’s still that paper copy, killing a tree and needing to be trashed or recycled).

In a small way, I’ve started to try to reduce my paper use. The way I do it is by not printing receipts from web transactions (and I do a lot of business on the web, between purchases and banking transactions).

Does this mean I don’t save the receipts at all?

No. It means I make .pdf’s of them.

I also use .pdf’s instead of mail or fax for my timesheets at work, and for mileage vouchers when I don’t need to send toll receipts.

To me, the .pdf is the best way to save and send a document. The format is recognized widely, there are a number of programs that read and write .pdf’s, and they’re hard to edit (although not, of course, impossible).

What has made this possible is the availability of free programs that will create .pdf’s from various kinds of sources. The free office suite, Openoffice.Org, (did I mention I love freeware?), will generate .pdf’s from any of its component parts. And small, free programs are available for both Windows and Linux that will create .pdf’s, and are accessible as printers from any program with a print feature.

Ubuntu Karmic includes a “print to file” feature, which defaults to .ps (PostScript printer files), but which offers .pdf as an option. And the cups-pdf package is available in Synaptic for those rare cases where “print to file” is not available.

For Windows, there are a number of free “.pdf printer drivers” available; I’ve used PDF Creator (which is stable up through XP) and Bullzip PDF (stable under Vista).

I save the .pdf’s to a folder, and have a sub-folder inside that to which I move them when they are no longer active or open (for example, after I receive the merchandise, or after I receive a statement showing the financial transaction). The .pdf’s have the advantage of being digitally searchable, and they can, of course, be printed if needed.

And I’ve got just that little be less trash to worry about… not to mention the piles of papers not accumulating on my desk. (The piles of drivel on my hard drive are another story – and probably another post!)

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