Analysis

The latest version of Adobe's Acrobat will forward flip it even deeper into the enterprise applications arena.

Acrobat 9 adds more sparkle to its act

Adobe has evolved from a developer of software products for creative professionals to one providing essential desktop software for enterprises.

Its flagship product is Adobe Acrobat Professional, version 9 of which was released at the beginning of this month.

Established users will be watching for any significant enhancements on Acrobat 8, released but two years ago, and they should not be disappointed.

The version E&T tested was Adobe Acrobat 9 Pro extended which, as the name suggests, has the most features of all the versions released.

The feature that many will find most useful would be the ability to capture Adobe Flash content from a Web page in all its multimedia glory. It's reasonable to expect that Acrobat would have sorted this capability much earlier. After all, the acquisition of Macromedia (who originally developed Flash) occurred more than three years ago.

With version 7, Adobe had the ability to build PDF portfolios that combine multiple file types in a single PDF document. For v.9, Adobe has sexed-up the navigation tools with an Apple-inspired 'Coverflow' type interface. Another view allows users to slide document images left or right, as they thumb through a portfolio's contents.

Both these features will find an obvious use in marketing: for example, building an interactive form with an attractive Flash interface or cover. Alternatively, a magazine publisher might want to incorporate a movie or animation into its top page.

Acrobat now converts any video format into Flash format when embedding them in a PDF file. Any user who has version 9 of the reader will be able to view these video files without any problem.

Another handy feature is Document Compare. This allows you to select two versions of a PDF document that you want to compare - whether they be text documents, rich media and graphics files, or even scanned documents. The completed comparison displays colour-coded changes, with an automatically-generated colour key on the corner of the screen.

For creating online forms, Acrobat 9 adds intelligence to recognise content for conversion to fillable fields; and a forms tracking dashboard will show, for instance, the status of responses to a mass party invitation email, and let a user send reminders to guests. Responses can be sorted, filtered, and exported to spreadsheets.

Redaction tools - a key selling point of Acrobat 8 - will offer searches for numeric patterns in addition to multiple words and phrases. A company could find every accidental mention of a bank account number or top-secret product being developed, and black out the potential leaks from a PDF in a single swoop.

Another plus is the reduced loading time Acrobat seems to take when opening the application. E&T tested it on Windows Vista, and we didn't have the inclination or the time to glance resignedly at the nearest clock.

Adobe has also unveiled an online community with a word processor; file storage and sharing; and effortless integration with the new version beta.

In addition, Acrobat 9's security enhancements enable users to add 256-bit encryption, used by online banking, to PDFs.

Acrobat.com is an intrepid move for Adobe, but it synergises with the company's other efforts - such as the recent launch of Adobe Integrated Runtime environment (AIR), to enable developers to build rich Internet applications than can also operate offline.

The free Acrobat.com beta includes the buzzword word processor, which has been favourable compared to Google Docs - of which more anon. The ConnectNow Web conferencing and desktop sharing tool enables chatting via text, video, and voice. The hosted services invites file storage and sharing with the capability to convert documents to PDF.

Buzzword and companion tools would provide interactivity lacking in leading online word processors such as Google Docs and Microsoft office Live Workspaces.

Users can store files on Acrobat.com and join each other in virtual meeting rooms to share identical document views in real time. The site also can host data from forms created in other Acrobat software.

Overall, this is a more complete upgrade than Acrobat 8 was on its predecessor, where the main reason to upgrade would have been to work with Windows Vista. The features which Adobe have added can add more converts within enterprise IT departments and make it a required installation on enterprise PCs and laptops.

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