Adobe fine-tunes Acrobat 7.0

Adobe Systems' Acrobat PDF application has evolved into the standard for document exchange. Recently, however, as inexpensive or free PDFcreation tools have flooded the market, Adobe officials have turned their attention away from simple client-side PDF creation to enterprise-level products, such as the Adobe Intelligent Document Platform.

The Intelligent Document Platform is an enterprisewide document strategy that integrates the use of forms, documents and other data in Extensible Markup Language format on the client side with back-end data systems on the server side. Acrobat 7.0 Professional and LifeCycle Designer 7.0, the forms design tool Adobe first released last year that comes bundled with Acrobat Professional, are part of the client-side strategy.

New features of Acrobat 7.0 Professional include full integration with the LifeCycle Designer forms tool and access to editing and markup tools for users who own only the limited, free Adobe Reader. The latest version of the product also provides more sophisticated tracking tools, a new organization tool to make managing and organizing PDFs easier and new integration with Microsoft Outlook. The integrated e-mail function allows users to select a group of e-mail messages and save them as a PDF file with the click of a button. In addition, Adobe has promised faster loading time, which Acrobat users have long sought, especially on the Web.

We liked Acrobat 7.0 Professional's new ability to provide editing tools for users reviewing a document in the program's Reader version. Document creators can distribute files for review either through e-mail or to a Web repository for Web-based review. In either case, Acrobat provides a wizard to walk you through the process of adding users and giving them access to markup tools in the Reader. The e-mail wizard provides a screen to select reviewers from your e-mail address book.

Unfortunately, Acrobat's address book integration is limited to Outlook. If you are using a different e-mail client, you have to enter all the addresses manually, which is an issue Adobe developers should address. The program sends reviewers standard instructions, but you may want to edit them. Users who are not accustomed to this functionality may struggle to access and use those tools because the instructions do not clearly supply enough information.

After you distribute a document to reviewers, you can track its progress throughout the review cycle using the Tracker tool. You can organize multiple reviews, track their progress and send reminder e-mail messages. If you are conducting a Web-based review, the Tracker also acts as a Really Simple Syndication (RSS) reader. RSS is an XML standard for content syndication. If your department has set up a Web server in which Web-based reviews are stored for syndication, you can automatically track the review progress by subscribing to that site. Whenever someone updates a PDF, you receive a message. For organizations using Web- based reviews, this could be a handy way to track progress without constantly monitoring the Tracker window.

LifeCycle Designer forms tool

Many departments and agencies use online forms to gather information from Web site visitors. LifeCycle Designer 7.0 allows anyone to design forms.

The tool comes with a variety of business templates to get you started, but creating a form from scratch is as simple as reviewing standard components and dragging the ones you want onto the form. There is a PDF preview tab in which you can see how the form will look as a PDF.

Some of the form components have functions that resemble programming. For instance, you can create a custom drop-down list or add bar code technology to the form for more sophisticated scanning and back-end document processing. This tool is well designed and easy to use. Your staff can quickly pick up basic forms design.

Organizing your PDFs

Acrobat 7.0 Professional is making strides in document management with its new tool for managing PDFs, the Organizer. This tool has three main elements: History, Explorer and Collections.

The History is much like a browser history, so you can see PDFs that you viewed most recently, last week or several months ago. The built-in Explorer interface provides navigation to any directory on your computer or network to locate PDFs.

Finally, you can organize related PDFs in Collections, which are accessible from the central Organizer window. If your department processes many PDFs, this tool could be valuable to help you manage them.

Adobe officials said that PDFs would open faster in Version 7.0. In an unscientific test of opening several PDFs of varying sizes in the Mozilla Firefox browser, the program seemed to load files somewhat faster. Other tasks, such as converting e-mail messages to PDFs in Outlook or converting a Web page to PDF, seemed to take an unusually long time on our test machine. Opening PDFs from our hard drive also took too long. Acrobat developers should address this processing deficiency so that the application can open files more quickly and efficiently.

Adobe has answered some user complaints by adding an editing function on a per-document basis to the free Adobe Reader. The new tools for tracking and organizing PDFs should prove useful to departments that deal with many PDFs, while the forms tool provides a painless way to develop Web-based forms. Adobe has never provided great instructions, and Acrobat 7.0 is no exception. But if company officials resolve the performance issues, the new features, XML support and ability to integrate data with back-end systems give Adobe a clear edge over the competition.

Miller is a freelance writer based in Amherst, Mass. He can be reached at rsmiller@techdochelp.com.

Adobe Acrobat 7.0 Professional

Adobe Systems
(408) 536-6000
www.adobe.com

Ease of use: Three out of five stars
Workgroup features: Four stars
Application integration: Four stars
Price: Two stars

Price: The product costs $449 or $159 for an upgrade for licensed users of Acrobat 4, 5 and 6. Volume pricing is available.

Pros: Acrobat 7.0 is easy-to-use and has new tools for tracking and sharing PDFs and organizing files. It also has the ability to turn on markup tools in the Adobe Reader on a per-document basis.

Cons: Performance degrades when users save and open PDFs locally. Adobe provides poor instructions for nontechnical users. Plus, address book integration for sending reviews is limited to Microsoft Outlook.

Platforms: Microsoft Windows and Apple Computer's Macintosh operating systems.

Test bed: Dell Dimension 4600 2.8 GHz PC with 512M RAM.

Acrobat highlights

Acrobat 7.0 Professional contains many new features that let users:

  • Quickly convert, collect and organize Adobe PDF documents.
  • Use Adobe LifeCycle Designer 7.0 to create PDF forms that look like the paper forms they replaced.
  • Easily attach source documents such as spreadsheets or multimedia files to an Adobe PDF document.
  • Source: Adobe Systems

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