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REVIEW: When it comes to document collaboration and sharing, there can be little argument that most of this activity is moving to the Web. But there can also be little argument that the current slate of Web-based tools comes up short in features and capabilities when compared to desktop tools.
Perhaps what is needed is a hybrid approach, something that combines the strong feature set of a desktop application with the easy collaboration of a Web-based approach. If this is truly the case, then Adobe may be on the right track.
That's because the latest release of its flagship Acrobat document platform is definitely focused on combining Acrobat's strong document editing and creation features with broad Web-based collaboration, sharing and conferencing tools.
To do this, Acrobat 9, which was released in June, relies heavily on the recently released Acrobat.com to provide Web-based collaboration and sharing tools, as well as leveraging other products from the Adobe portfolio to add conferencing and live document reviewing features. And while there are few completely new capabilities in the core Acrobat feature set, many have been overhauled and improved to such a degree that they feel like completely new features.
Acrobat is available in three different versions; Standard, Pro and Pro Extended (click here for a matrix comparing the different Acrobat versions). In order to see the full possible feature set for Acrobat I decided to test the Pro Extended version, which is priced at $699.
By far the biggest new features in Acrobat 9 are in the online collaboration area. In order to use these features, a free Acrobat.com account is required. The simplest aspect of these features is the ability to upload and share documents by sending them to Acrobat.com directly from Acrobat.
With the Acrobat.com account it is also possible to share documents online and let users comment on and review the documents using the integrated tools on Acrobat.com. Of course, these tools are available to any users of Acrobat.com without purchasing Acrobat 9 but the integration does make it a little easier for users of the desktop application.
Much cooler is the Collaborate Live feature, which makes it possible to do a fully live collaborated edit of a document with another colleague (who also has to have a copy of Acrobat 9). Also well integrated in Acrobat 9 is a direct launch for Adobe ConnectNow online conferencing tool, which made it easy to quickly launch a Web-conference which, since it is Flash-based, didn't require special downloads for participants.
When it comes to document creation, editing and reviewing features, Acrobat 9 is all about improved capabilities rather than new features, and in many cases I found these features to be much improved.
For example, using the create PDF from Web page feature in Acrobat 8 often resulted in a poorly layed out mess that beared little resemblence to the Web page. But with Acrobat 9 all the Web pages I converted to PDF did a very good job maintaining the original look and feel.
Document comparison has also been greatly enhanced in Acrobat 9. While previous versions provided a very basic visual comparison of two PDFs, version 9 now provides much greater detail about every little difference between two documents.
The old PDF packaging features have been redubbed PDF Portfolio and now provide some very nice customized capabilities for combining multiple PDFs, images and text into a unified document collection.
While still not perfect, forms creation and management has also been boosted in this version. I was able to use the integrated scanning and OCR capabilities to automatically create live forms from paper documents and while it didn't automatically identify all of the form fields, it still proved to be a time saver. Acrobat 9 also makes it easier to collect form data and export it to external programs such as spreadsheets for further analysis.
Search across multiple PDFs has been improved in this version and those working in the legal profession will appreciate the enhanced search and redact capabilities. Using this feature I was able to define words or text patterns and have Acrobat black these terms out across my PDFs.
Most of the features unique to Acrobat 9 Pro Extended relate to multimedia. These included an easy-to-use feature for adding and integrating Flash and video content to PDFs as well as commenting that follows along with video as it plays. This version also includes some interesting capabilities for integrating 3D maps inside of PDF documents.
Fully functional trial versions of all Acrobat versions can be downloaded at www.adobe.com/acrobat.