Adobe's Acrobat X factors in security, collaboration

The company has sandboxed the PDF Reader to stop malicious hackers from exploiting potential weaknesses in the software, as well as adding new online services and announcing the upcoming launch of Windows Phone 7 and BlackBerry 6 apps

Adobe has updated its Acrobat suite with features promising tighter security, better collaboration and easier management of PDFs.

On Monday, the software maker introduced the new Acrobat X and Reader X, alongside online document exchange services. It has added Protected Mode technology to Reader that isolates the PDF reader software in a sandbox, to contain the threat of malicious code included in a PDF document. The mode will be enabled by default on official plug-ins for all the major browsers.

In addition, the company will now deliver security updates via Microsoft's System Centre Configuration Manager (SCCM) or System Centre Updates Publisher (SCUP). In the past, Adobe has patched Acrobat and Reader vulnerabilities in quarterly bulletins or by issuing out-of-cycle emergency updates — such as patching Flash vulnerabilities — where necessary. The new feature should allow enterprises to install fixes more easily, according to Adobe.

As well as bolstering security, Acrobat X and Reader X focus on improving collaboration. The PDF creation tool has a new workflow streamlining option called Actions — essentially, a user-modifiable step-by-step guide to creating a PDF. The reader, meanwhile, now adds commenting through highlighting and 'sticky note' functionality that lets users create notes within documents.

Portfolio, the metadocument handler that bundles different document types together, has also been improved with more file types and a streamlined user interface (UI). Actions and Portfolio are available in Acrobat X Pro, which otherwise shares all features with Acrobat X Standard.

"Mistakes and inefficiencies in ad-hoc processes are becoming costly [for organisations]. People struggle with the volume of work and it's not getting any easier... This is a huge opportunity for our desktop as well as services products, " Mark Grill, director of marketing at Adobe, told ZDNet UK in a briefing.

Acrobat itself has a new UI that brings functions together in one place and supports visual themes and layouts, which can be user created and customised.

Created PDFs can now also be shared by either being exported as HTML, or directly uploaded to a website, where they can be previewed. Online previews also have built-in handlers for different content types within Portfolio uploads — reducing the need for users to have specific viewers installed on the device they are using.

Adobe said the software would improve collaboration between business users. "Companies today need to work with their customers and partners in multiple time zones, languages and cross-functional teams," said Melissa Webster, analyst at IDC, in a statement quoted by Adobe. "Seamless, fluid content creation and collaboration is critical to how organisations use, repurpose and share information — it is no longer a 'nice to have'; it is an imperative to success in today's business world."

Acrobat is now integrated with SharePoint for document management. Adobe also says that it provides "higher quality" export to Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel.

Adobe will be adding SendNow, providing large PDF transfer and tracking features, to the Acrobat homepage; this reduces the need to email or FTP files, the company says.

In addition, Adobe will be launching Windows Phone 7 and BlackBerry 6 Reader apps to complement the Android version launched in May 2010. A company spokesman told ZDNet UK that no time frame could currently be given for the Microsoft and BlackBerry apps but that "release date discussions are underway".

The Adobe Acrobat X family encompasses Acrobat X , Reader X and online document exchange services. A new bundle, Acrobat X Suite, includes Photoshop CS5, Captivate 5, Presenter 7, Livecycle Designer ES2 and Media Encoder CS5. Only Acrobat X Pro and the online services will be available for Macintosh users. The new versions are expected to ship within the next 30 days, with Acrobat Standard priced at around £278, Pro at £444 and the Suite at £953.

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