Adobe Acrobat 9 Pro Extended (Beta)

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Adobe's latest incarnation of Acrobat is top of the line, highly featured software. Just make sure you need all the bells and whistles before you pay the AU$999 price tag.

The Portable Document Format (PDF) was designed with the intent that people using any platform should be able to view the same document and have it appear on screen and in print in a consistent manner.

Adobe, the creator of the PDF format, was an early pioneer in the document portability game and their continued ingenuity has led to the company becoming today's dominant force in document exchange.

While good software design is certainly a reason for success, the ubiquity of PDF is to a great extent also due to the licensing. As we all know Adobe distribute Acrobat Reader free of charge and other software developers are able to develop PDF viewers and editors without the need to pay royalties. As a result, there has been a proliferation of such software.

SunOffice/OpenOffice and Corel office packages can directly export to PDF and Corel WordPerfect even attempts to covert PDF back to WP format.

Given their licensing strategy, Adobe needs to constantly advance the state of PDF technology in order to retain a share of the profits of this flexible document handling system. As a result, Adobe has developed advanced security, forms and data compression to enhance the format itself as well as improving the Adobe Acrobat software to handle these changes and improve its ability to manipulate the data within documents and improve sharing within your team.

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Adobe Acrobat version 9 is due for release at the end of June. Four individually priced products comprise this family with different features: Acrobat Reader, Acrobat Standard, Acrobat Pro and Acrobat Pro Extended.

The Extended version distinguishes itself from the Pro version through its handling of multimedia material. You can import map data and create PDF maps; Flash videos can be embedded in your documents and 3D objects can be generated from CAD data files allowing exploded views and animations.

New features include mapping features and greatly expanded handling of 3D-objects. Additionally Abode has improved page capture via OCR and from web-pages. Forms can also be generated from scanned images with automated recognition of fields, but we had very limited success with this — it would be better to stick with forms generated in MS Word.

Security has improved with the inclusion of redaction tools allowing you to seek out and censor sensitive information. New collaboration tools allow for online meetings to discuss your document and the ability to share documents via upload to Finally, compressed portfolios allow for a number of documents to be collected into a single file for simplified distribution and perusal.

While Acrobat natively supports a wide range of graphics formats (including many CAD packages) and also HTML and PS/EPS printer standards, office software support is restricted to the Microsoft Office family of products.

This apparent limitation is probably not serious given that MS Office formats are another 'de facto' standard. Acrobat includes MS-Office add-ons allowing direct export to PDF. Most office packages can export to MS formats and as previously mentioned some of these packages have their own (albeit limited) PDF export functions.

The user interface is clean and straightforward for all basic tasks. New users should become productive in a very short time although it will certainly take a while to become familiar with all creative possibilities.

Imports from MS Word and HTML appeared flawless in terms of formatting — as expected for static documents given that these are now such well established processes. HTML content was a bit hit and miss, however; forms and buttons were recognised but tended to be adjusted to the default style of Acrobat, graphics resolution was reduced and upon printing Flash media was missing and contrast was very poor when compared to a print done directly from MS Internet Explorer — on the other hand layout was vastly superior to what you often get when printing complex web pages.

It is possible to configure the way Acrobat handles graphics, but these are not for the beginner and the so called help files offer little assistance.

If you need to revert from PDF back to say MS Word, Adobe will oblige preserving both images and formatted text, but be aware that the resulting layout will be very imperfect. Images will likely shift and features such as indents and justification may be lost or rendered incorrectly. (Word processors are designed with precise text editing in mind and thus their files store data with little relevance to the PDF standard.)

There is a handy Document Compare function which highlights all changes between document versions. Changes to text and graphics are marked with high-lighting and notes. We found this function convenient to use and its use well documented on screen.

Preparing maps for use with Acrobat was described by our contact at Adobe as "a manual process and not suitable for high volume processing". We were, however supplied with a document containing an already 'geo-registered' map. This map allowed us to precisely identify latitude and longitude coordinates at the point below our mouse-pointer. In this instance the map was included at a bitmapped image rather than a vector drawing which limited the value of zooming.

This package consumes 2.7GB of disk space — 615MB of which is the help files. Sure, we can expect a feature packed program to be big, but I suspect that, to a large extent, the issue is the modern programming preference of fast development over hardware needs. After all, drives are always getting bigger and CPU's are always getting faster — why worry? While space may be a non-issue, the time taken to update Adobe products has certainly caused us some frustrations in the past — with no updates yet available for version 9 we cannot comment on the current state of affairs.

You have the option of password protecting your document and restricting how it is used. Limits can be set on the ability of readers to print, copy, edit or to complete forms. Security is ensured through 128-bit RC4 encryption.

Adobe really has a clever marketing strategy. Allowing others to create compatible software has enhanced the spread of the PDF format until it has become today's de facto standard, yet by controlling the definition of this format Adobe guarantee themself a generous share of the market by ensuring that the latest advancements are theirs and thus anyone who wants the best looking, most secure documents will naturally seek out Adobe software.

Given the space taken by the help files on disk we were surprised by our inability to find guidance and by the number of dead links. Adobe confirmed that the help files are not yet complete. Since there appear to be functional omissions also (or perhaps we just needed those missing help pages) we hope that the final version significantly more complete than the beta-version.

It is hard to imagine what other type of information could be included in a document that Adobe have not already allowed for (at least in theory). With all functions in place this should be an impressive package. Overall this package produces professional looking secure documentation for a vast range of applications.

The full version of Acrobat 9 Pro Extended costs AU$999 (AU$329 for upgrade). Version 9 is due to be released at the end of June and will support Windows Server 2003, XP and Vista operating systems. There is no mention on Adobe's website of a Mac version at this stage. The full package is pricey, so think about whether you need all the features or whether the Standard (AU$549) or Pro (AU$749) versions would be adequate. Abobe's support site provides a wealth of information including updates, forums and access to product training. Phone support is also available.