Easy HTML to PDF using Google Docs

There are a multitude of services available, online and otherwise, for turning a web page into a PDF. You can of course simply print the page to a virtual PDF printer device, or go via postscript then convert to PDF. However, I often find that the results are not very pleasing (<pre> tags anybody?) and there are times when you don’t want everything from the web page. Today I discovered yet another use for Google Docs – PDF creation from web pages.


  1. Save the web page (save as “web page, HTML only”)
  2. Upload the HTML file to Google Docs
  3. Do a little editing, either visually or source, to remove what you don’t need
  4. Save, then download as PDF (or an editable format if required)

You’ll be seeing the results of this in my forthcoming Bio::Blogs post.


One of my Google Gadget pet hates is search gadgets that open results in the same browser tab. Surely the point of a portal page such as iGoogle is that it remains open, rather than jumping between it and the resources that it contains.

It’s a problem with an easy solution – gadget developers just need to ensure that any <a href> tags in their code contain the target=”_blank” attribute. I got so tired of this that I resorted to grabbing the XML files for some of my favourite gadgets, editing them and hosting them on a server.

Here are the links in case anyone else finds them useful. To add them to an iGoogle tab click “add stuff”, look for the “add by URL” link, copy these URLs and paste them in. Feel free to grab the files and host them yourself. I can’t guarantee availability.

New look for Google Docs

Old news (a couple of weeks) but worth noting: a new look for Google Docs. You can register your opinion in this thread at the Help group.

The new look is quite clean and pretty – a little too Microsoft for my taste, but I guess that’s the target market. They’ve also introduced folders – apparently many users just can’t get their head around tags. Small, largely cosmetic changes that neither add to nor detract from the product, in my opinion.

Compound gadget

compound_gadget.pngVia Lifehacker: the iGoogle compound gadget organises multiple gadgets into one tabbed gadget. Not only a space saver but a way to deal with those troublesome gadgets that don’t display properly when the page auto-refreshes. I like this one.

Google Gears

Google Gears, according to a post on every productivity blog today (here’s one), is the latest cool Google tool. There’s a new Gears blog too.

So far as I understand, the only current application lets you read feeds offline. Perhaps I’m missing something but – what exactly is the point of that?

  • I use feeds to alert me to interesting website content – which I then want to visit and read. Can’t really do that offline. . .
  • When I’m offline it’s for a good reason – to relax, stop working and have a break from feeds, email and all the rest of it. I don’t need to carry a reminder of what I’m not reading everywhere I go – especially when I can’t do anything about it. If you’re offline – well, be offline, not semi-online. Smell some flowers or something.

Gears today covers what we think is the minimal set of primitives required for offline apps. It is still a bit rough and in need of polish, but we are releasing it early because we think the best way to make Gears really useful is to evolve it into an open standard

To be honest, I’m starting to tire of very-beta early release Google apps. They’re great when they work well, but Google seem very slow to improve those that don’t. I’m thinking Groups (still no integration with other apps), Reader (still no search), iGoogle (seems to break a little more every day at the moment). Are they overstretching themselves? Or struggling to prioritise? Time will tell.

Perhaps Google, by releasing their APIs, are just relying on the open source community to do the work. There are certainly lots of great enhancements around (Greasemonkey scripts and so on), but I’d still like to see a little more effort by Google to polish certain products before release.

Google Docs: now officially impressed

A while ago, I asked for suggestions about how a research group could collaboratively edit documents. More than one person suggested that I try Google Docs and Spreadsheets. I signed up, uploaded a file or two, played around with the editor and didn’t take it much further.

I went back to it this week and now I get it. On your own, it serves as little more than a backup or a way to publish on the web. It’s the collaborative features that make it shine. Your documents can be private, open by invitation or public. Invitees (up to 200 of them) can be “view only” or collaborators (editors). Several people can work on a document simultaneously (up to 50 for docs, 10 for spreadsheets). There’s a very nice revisions feature where you can view differences between versions, colour-coded by author. You can upload and download in all the common formats that people are likely to use and convert to PDF. This means that I can work on my documents in LaTeX, run them through latex2rtf, upload the RTF and let other people work on them in a format with which they’re comfortable.

As usual, now all I have to do is convince my colleagues to stop bouncing documents around by email and use this far-superior tool instead.

How to hack a Google Gadget

Google gadgets are surprisingly simple. They consist of an XML file that contains the code for the gadget. The code is often just basic HTML, e.g. for a search form, or else may include some javascript for fancier effects.

I recently installed a Flickr search gadget. It works, but loads the resulting Flickr page in the same window as my iGoogle page. Not really what I wanted, since the idea is to launch things from iGoogle rather than going back and forth from it. The nice thing about the gadgets is that the source code is available. So I grabbed it from the above link, opened it up in emacs and changed all instances of the HTML <a> attribute “target=’_top’ ” to “target=’_blank’ “.

All well and good, but how to get the modified version onto iGoogle? You need a web server for that. Drop the modified XML file somewhere in your webserver documents directory, then find the link on an iGoogle “add stuff” page that says “Add by URL”. Paste in the URL to your gadget file, e.g.http://your.server.com/files/search_flickr_module.xml&#8221; and you’re all set. My Flickr search results now open in a new Firefox tab.

Update: I’ve tried a lot of “simple search form” gadgets today and so many of them suffer from this “load in same page” problem. And it’s so easy to fix. Can I plead with all gadget developers – use target=”_blank”.