Adobe launches competitor to Google Docs

Acrobat.com, an online collaboration tool designed to rival Google Docs, provides meetings and PDF creation at different levels of pricing
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

Adobe has launched Acrobat.com, an online document collaboration tool that the software company is pitching as a competitor to Google Docs.

The cloud-based service, introduced in the US on Monday, allows business users to collaborate on presentations and spreadsheets that are updated in real-time.

"Sometimes it's hard to work with other people," Erik Larsen, director of product management for Acrobat.com, said in a Friday press call. "Sometimes [circumstances] are inherently annoying. With Acrobat.com, work teams can be in multiple locations. Everyone understands the online medium."

No European launch date has been set for the service, which comes in both free and paid-for versions with tiered benefits. Depending on the package businesses opt for, users can share files, and create and password-protect PDFs. All the packages include online meetings, via Adobe's ConnectNow service, and use of Buzzword, Adobe's online word-processing tool.

The company has introduced two new tools for the Acrobat.com launch: Tables, a spreadsheet that can be edited and updated by multiple participants on the fly; and Presenter, which lets people collaborate on building a presentation. It also provides file storage online.

The service is compatible with Adobe Air and Adobe Reader. In the autumn, Adobe plans to begin an Acrobat.com smartphone service compatible with iPhone, Nokia, Blackberry and Windows Mobile smartphone operating systems.

Larsen said Acrobat.com will be a direct competitor to Google's online document collaboration service, Google Docs. He noted that the major difference between the two is that email does not come with Acrobat.com.

"We don't include email in this service," Larsen told ZDNet UK. "It's not a necessary solution for the future. To make things more efficient, you should bring people to documents, not send attachments in email."

However, Larsen added that it is possible to send email from the service using other email services, including Outlook and Gmail.

Adobe is not concerned about the future launch of Google Wave, Google's upcoming collaboration and communication platform, he said.

"Google Wave will make a big splash, [but] it's a complex idea, and I don't think complex ideas work in terms of collaboration," said Larsen. "A survey by Acrobat.com asked business people if they knew the meaning of 'wiki', and only a tiny percentage knew what a wiki was — that's not a complex idea. We are focused on business people, focused on fun, and we're not forcing people to change the way they think."

This year, a number of critical security vulnerabilities have been found in Adobe Acrobat and Reader, and a patch released this week addressed 13 holes in the software. Larsen said that Adobe "takes security seriously" and said Acrobat.com will encrypt data traffic. "We follow industrial best practice," he said. "You can't get to the physical servers, and at the network and application levels we use SSL."

Larsen added that business people could regulate document sharing by protecting files with a password.

Adobe plans to introduce a Linux version of Acrobat.com, but Larsen declined to give a timescale. "It's a matter of finishing our testing," said Larsen. "We have aggressive plans for the end of the year."

For developers, Adobe will provide Acrobat.com APIs, and coders can use the Flash collaboration service to develop apps in real time.

The service is being launched in the US only. The free service allows two people to meet online, but they have no ability to create PDFs. A Premium Basic service at $14.99 (£9) per month, or $149 per year, provides online meetings for up to five participants, with 10 PDFs per month and phone support. The Premium Plus service costs $39 per month, or $390 a year, for up to 20 participants and unlimited PDFs. Larsen said that the eventual European pricing would be comparable to US pricing.

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