Adobe gives Acrobat 6.0 new muscle

Adobe Systems Inc.'s PDF is one of only a few document formats to become standard. Since it was introduced 10 years ago, it has virtually taken over the market for distributing complex, graphics-intensive documents via the Internet.

Among the more interesting new features of Acrobat 6.0 is a snapshot tool that lets you select a region of the document and copy it to the clipboard. Other recently added features include an enhanced search function, a dynamic zoom tool and automatic scrolling. There's even a save-as-text option for converting a PDF file into plain ASCII text and a read-out-loud function that does a respectable job of translating text to speech.

One thing to keep in mind when installing any edition of Acrobat 6.0, which comes in three editions including the free Acrobat Reader, is that it does not remove the previous version. If you choose not to uninstall the previous version until later, you will remove the file type association of PDF to the Acrobat program and you won't be able to view a PDF file by double clicking on it.

Adobe Acrobat Elements adds a one-button ability to create PDF files from within Microsoft Corp. Office applications and is only available through a volume-licensing agreement. This version is targeted to users who only need a basic capability to create PDF documents from a Microsoft Office environment. Next up is the standard version targeted at workgroup users needing a document review capability.

We liked the standard version's one-button create feature from within Internet Explorer. After installing the standard version, a new toolbar item lets you convert to PDF, add to an existing PDF file or print. The print function actually converts the Web page to PDF and reformats it to fit on the page. This fixes the annoying problem of losing text when printing some pages using Internet Explorer's print function. It also can potentially increase the page count depending on how much text and what font size were used.

Acrobat Standard 6.0 also includes a feature that allows you to combine multiple documents from different sources into a single PDF file. We liked how easy it was to grab Web pages, image files and Microsoft Office documents and then create a single document. It's also easy to add headers, footers and even watermarks.

When you install Acrobat, it adds new buttons to all Microsoft Office applications and to Windows Explorer. A right click on any recognized file type lets you convert to Adobe PDF, convert and e-mail, or convert and combine with other files.

The document review and commenting features are not new but have been enhanced to ease the review process. E-mail-based review lets users add and send comments as an attachment to the original document. The document author then imports these comments into the original document by simply opening the attachment.

Acrobat 6.0 also supports managed browser-based reviews as long as all participants are using Microsoft Windows-based computers. A review tracker adds the ability to send review reminders, invite new reviewers and manage the overall review process. New commenting tools include markup features for the reviewer and tools for the author to sort, filter and change the status of comments from an overall list.

Acrobat Professional targets the high-end user who needs to create complex documents and forms. Creating PDF forms has been enhanced with a new user interface including a separate forms toolbar and specific forms properties available from the properties toolbar.

Acrobat Professional integrates with a number of additional programs including Autodesk Inc.'s AutoCAD, Microsoft Project and Microsoft Visio. This integration makes it much easier to distribute such data as Microsoft Project schedules and AutoCAD and Visio drawings to other people who don't have the original applications installed. It also makes it easy to combine output from the different applications into a single document.

Acrobat 6.0 supports Extensible Markup Language in a number of different ways. For forms, Acrobat can export and import fields as XML files. You can also build Acrobat forms to use for submitting information via the Web. All that's required on the Web server is a CGI application to collect the data. The forms toolbar includes a button tool that allows you to create interactive buttons.

For secure documents, Acrobat 6.0 delivers 128-bit encryption, password protection and digital signature support. The use of public-key infrastructure and digital signatures will become increasingly popular with the advent of the Defense Department's Common Access Card. For print professionals, there are a number of new features, such as the preflight feature that lets you analyze the content of a PDF file to determine if it is valid for print production.

In short, Acrobat 6.0 offers a wealth of new features that should make it worth the upgrade. The only complaint I have is that the program seems to have a slower initial loading time than previous versions. And make sure you uninstall any previous versions of Acrobat before you install version 6.0. Taking that one extra step could save you a lot of pain and frustration later.

Ferrill, based in Lancaster, Calif., has been writing about software for almost 15 years. He can be reached at paul.ferrill@ verizon.net.

REPORT CARD

Adobe Acrobat 6.0

Grade: A

Adobe Systems Inc.
(800) 833-6687
www.adobe.com

Acrobat Standard costs $299, Acrobat Professional $449, Acrobat Elements $28 per seat for 1,000 seats. Acrobat Professional includes many new features and enhancements that make the product worth its price. The tight integration with Microsoft Corp. Office products and the ability to combine multiple document types into a single PDF file add to the program's flexibility. Our only complaint is the slow initial loading time of the program. It runs on Microsoft Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000 Professional, Windows XP and Windows XP Tablet Edition.

We tested Acrobat on a Hewlett-Packard Co. Compaq Evo desktop system with a 1.7 GHz processor and 1G of memory running Windows XP.

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