Adobe Builds on Acrobat Strengths

Review: Acrobat 8 professional eases creating, sharing and securing documents

Adobe Systems Acrobat is a mainstay within corporations, and thats not about to change with Acrobat 8 Professional. eWEEK Labs tests of the beta release show that the application makes it easier than ever for users to create, share and secure documents.

We unearthed plenty of compelling features during our tests of the beta, including the ability to group a set of files into a single Adobe PDF package and enhanced tracking abilities that let document creators include users of specific versions of Adobe Reader in the review process.

As much as these enhancements remind us of why Acrobat is such a widely used tool, IT managers with users who dont need all the functionality and features that make Acrobat 8 Professional so powerful should consider lower-cost or even free alternatives.

The Acrobat 8 Professional beta requires an Intel Pentium III or equivalent processor, 256MB of RAM (512MB recommended), 860MB of available hard disk space and a CD-ROM drive. The application supports Microsofts Windows 2000 Service Pack 4, or Windows XP Professional, Home Edition or Tablet PC Edition (all SP2). The final version of Acrobat 8 will support Microsofts Vista and the Office 2007 productivity suite, but the Adobe beta supports neither Vista Release Candidate 1 nor Office 2007 Beta 2.

For our tests, we installed the Acrobat 8 Professional beta on a Lenovo 3000 V100 laptop with a 1.66GHz Intel Core Duo T2300e processor running Windows XP SP2 and Office 2003. We also installed the beta on a Hewlett-Packard xw9300 workstation with Advanced Micro Devices 2.6GHz Opteron 252 processor and 2GB of RAM running 64-bit Windows XP Professional and Office 2007 Beta 2.

Of the many new features in Acrobat 8 Professional, the one we liked the most—and the one we believe users will find most beneficial—is the ability to package different files into a single PDF file. Users can choose to merge files to create a new document or to assemble files into a PDF package that groups the files together but allows each document to remain distinct. During tests, it was easy to work with documents based on various file formats—for example, Microsoft Word, PDF and AutoCAD.

Security enhancements to Acrobat include the ability to maintain individual security settings for each of the documents used to create a PDF file; the beta also allowed us to search for and remove metadata and other concealed information to ensure that confidential data remained that way. Users also can now restrict access to PDF documents with 128-bit encryption.

When it came to sharing PDF files, we found the new shared-reviews feature to be handy. Users can now allow all reviewers to see comments made to a file by publishing those comments to a server, separate from the PDF file. We used a network folder to store and retrieve comments, but a shared work space on a Microsoft SharePoint server or a folder on a Web server also can be used.

When we reviewed Acrobat 7 Professional, we found that its major strength was the ability to allow even users of the free Adobe Reader to participate in PDF document reviews. Acrobat 8 Professional Beta 1 takes that one step further by allowing users of Adobe Reader 7.0—and the forthcoming Adobe Reader 8—to fill out, digitally sign and locally save PDF forms.

With Acrobat 8 Professional, users will be able to collaborate in real time with colleagues and partners via Adobe Acrobat Connect. Formerly the Macromedia Breeze Web conferencing product, Acrobat Connect is now part of the Acrobat product line (as a result of Adobes acquisition of Macromedia) and is available for purchase separately.

While they are separate products, Acrobat 8 Professional and Acrobat Connect are integrated in that Acrobat 8 Professional now has a "Start meeting" button in its menu. By clicking on that button, users can launch an online meeting from which they can share screen shots, audio, video and whiteboards.

At the time of our review, we did not have access to Acrobat Connect or Acrobat Connect Professional, but we expect to review these products in the near future. Whether grouping Acrobat and Connect will allow Adobe to gain market share from other Web conferencing applications, such as WebEx Communications WebEx Meeting Center and Microsofts Microsoft Office Live Meeting, remains to be seen.

Senior Writer Anne Chen can be reached at anne_chen@ziffdavis.com.