Adobe enriches Acrobat for workflow apps

A new version of Adobe Systems Inc.'s Acrobat software will allow users to electronically sign documents in Portable Document Format so they can be used in an automated workflow.

Agencies use Acrobat to distribute documents in their original file formats. Users with Acrobat readers can read text documents, spreadsheets and other types of office automation documents without having the software in which the documents were created. Many agencies use this format to disseminate information on the World Wide Web or to collect documents from outside sources.

Acrobat 4.0, announced last week, incorporates electronic signing capabilities ranging from encoded handwritten signatures to digital signatures backed by certificates.

Joel Geraci, product manager for Adobe, said the ability to sign PDF documents was a top priority for customers such as the Food and Drug Administration who route forms and other materials received electronically from the public. "People who were implementing forms really drove that," Geraci said.

The package supports electronic signature technologies from a number of vendors including Entrust Technologies Inc., VeriSign Inc., PenOp Inc., Silanis Technology Inc., Communication Intelligence Corp. and Digital Applications Inc.

"This is where the market for these kind of tools is going," said Steve Weissman, president of Kinetic Information, Waltham, Mass. But Acrobat "has no back-end intelligence," Weissman said, so whether the product meets agencies' needs as part of a workflow application depends on their document processing requirements.

Adobe said it has made it easier for users to distribute PDF files through groupware applications such as Lotus Development Corp.'s Notes. Open Text Corp. said last week that Acrobat documents could be routed and shared within an organization using its Livelink document-management package.

Acrobat 4.0 also includes annotation capabilities for users who are preparing and reviewing documents. In addition to having some new markup capabilities, such as a highlighting, underlining and using clip-art stamps, users will be able to sign any changes they make to a document and preserve and compare different versions.

Another feature allows users to capture Web pages or entire Web sites for review or preservation offline. Geraci said customers have told him they can use this feature "for versioning on [their] Web sites."

Customers also will be able to reuse text or data in PDF files with a new data extraction feature. Rita Knox, vice president and research director with Gartner Group, said this is "the most significant" improvement Adobe has made over previous versions of Acrobat. Knox said this feature might provide customers with a reason to buy the complete Acrobat package rather than just download the free viewer.

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