Recently, Acrobat has been showing its age. It has come to feel slow, lumbering and old-fashioned: a dinosaur in today’s internet age. And, with recent versions chronically unimpressive, it seemed that Acrobat might be reaching the end of its life.
The good news is that that’s not the case. In fact, version 9 is the most exciting Acrobat release since the launch of the ubiquitous free Reader application; something that’s most obvious in the new, top-of-the-range Adobe Acrobat 9 Extended package.
This new lease of life springs from the merging of the previously separate PDF and Flash technologies, and allows Acrobat to leave its static ePaper roots behind. Previous versions already supported embedding SWF content, but playback depended on the user having to separately install the Flash player.
After its takeover of Macromedia, Adobe has been able to roll the Flash player into Adobe Reader and universal, web-efficient media delivery is now integral to the Acrobat platform.
The benefits of this Flash transfusion are most directly felt in the handling of video. The advantages here for designers are clear, but with the ever-increasing spread of webcams and movie-capable cameras and phones, video is now an everyday part of life. Thanks to Flash, Acrobat now reflects this, making it almost as easy to handle moving images as static pictures.
Flash only supports its own web-optimised Flash Video (FLV) format, but Acrobat 9 Pro Extended provides a converter which lets you import a range of formats including AVI, MOV, WMV and MPEG, which Acrobat 9 Pro Extended will then convert to FLV.
Acrobat 9 sees updated versions of all its macro-based PDF-authoring capabilities across Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Outlook and Internet Explorer. It also provides dedicated PDF-authoring for Lotus Notes and, via the latest versions of the Acrobat Print Driver and standalone Acrobat Distiller, any application that can print.
One major reason for using PDFs is to keep searchable records, and Acrobat 9 sees a number of improvements on this front. The first is support for 256-bit AES encryption, but the web page conversion tool – Web Capture – is also much better thanks to native Flash support and the ability to convert only selected areas of a page.
Even bigger strides have been made when it comes to converting copy to electronic archive, with improved OCR and wider scanner support. Combined with the improved output to Word’s DOC format, Acrobat 9 can now double as a dedicated OCR app. When it comes to data retrieval, Acrobat 9 also adds easy searching across all PDFs within a folder.
An excellent demonstration of the new Flash integration is the conversion of packages into “portfolios”, combining multiple sources into PDFs. Creating portfolios is simple: drag and drop files onto the main Edit Portfolio window, then choose a layout from a list of presets, add a welcome page and header, select a colour scheme and specify the file details as they will appear onscreen. It’s extremely straightforward and the results are very polished. Designers can go further by using Flash and Flex to create their own custom layouts.
Select the “Share Documents on Acrobat.com” command and you can post your PDF to the site, which will send out emails with an invitation to view and download, in the process avoiding potential problems with email security and file size settings. When reviewers publish their comments to Acrobat.com they are automatically reflected in the hosted PDF and made visible to all.
For forms, the published data can simply be sent to your Inbox for manual collation or routed via Acrobat.com for automatic handling. When data is received, a notification appears in your System Tray; clicking on this opens Acrobat 9’s revamped Tracker, where you can see a consolidated view of returns and email participants that haven’t responded.
The Extended version justifies its hefty price tag by taking in features formerly covered in Acrobat 3D. This means you can insert a range of 3D models in formats such as 3DS, OBJ and DAE. These can be rotated in 3D, relit and re-rendered from within the free Reader application. There are also new features on this front, including a dedicated 3D Reviewer and the ability to export models to 2D vector formats.
But the real stand-out for Acrobat 9 Pro Extended is the inclusion of Adobe Presenter 7, which costs $809 on its own. This is an add-on for PowerPoint that dramatically increases its power. It adds advanced media-handling, letting you insert Flash SWF animations, record, sync and edit an audio commentary for your slides, and insert, capture and edit video.
The strength of Presenter has always come from the fact that you can export your enhanced presentation to Flash SWF, ready for high-impact, web-efficient playback in any browser. Now there’s another near-universal publishing option available: PDF. And with the Flash player integrated into Adobe Reader, the resulting PDF is just as rich and engaging as SWF.
Acrobat 9 Pro Extended is undeniably expensive and if you aren’t going to use its advanced capabilities – and it’s difficult to imagine how you could possibly use all of them – you could save a great deal of money by looking at the alternatives.
On the other hand, when you consider everything the PDF format is now capable of it appears good value. It certainly is in the US, where the RRP is $699. The unfortunate fact Australian buyers are being charged almost double deprives Acrobat Pro Extended of an otherwise well-deserved Recommended award.
This Review appeared in the October, 2008 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine
Source: Copyright © PC Pro, Dennis Publishing