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    This Acrobat juggling a host of new video and online PDF file features

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2008 First published in Business in Vancouver September 2-8, 2008; issue 984

    High Tech Office column

    Many computer generations ago, there was a challenge: how could users see, on screen, a document, mixing text and graphics, that always appeared the same, regardless of computer platform or the fonts and applications that might differ between individual computers?

    One portable document format, Adobe Acrobat, became an unofficial standard, with tax forms and more being distributed online as Acrobat PDF files. Adobe’s free Reader software, which enables PDF viewing both on its own and within common web browsers, is almost universally installed.

    But the success of the PDF file format as a standard for portable documents posed problems for its creator, Adobe. The company’s Acrobat software is no longer needed to create basic PDF files. Many applications like Word Perfect or OpenOffice have this capability built in, as does Apple’s Mac OS X operating system. There are also literally dozens of free or low-cost PDF-creation add-ons for Windows.

    Why should users bother buying expensive Adobe Acrobat software?

    Each new version of Acrobat has added features: collaboration, security, form creation and more. The new Adobe Acrobat 9 kicks it up a notch. It allows users to create multimedia PDF files with online hooks.

    Among the new features: PDF portfolios combining multiple types of documents, including video and links to web conferencing, in a single package, built around attractive theme and navigation tools.

    Imagine a corporate logo’ed marketing document, combining text, graphics, charts and videos. Or multi-faceted training and reference documents. Or just to simplify attaching multiple documents to an e-mail message.
    Videos can be now embedded into PDF documents, making them universally viewable. These new video-embedded PDFs are viewable in the new version of Adobe Reader without forcing viewers to deal with often confusing video codices.

    This feature is a marriage of the widely used Flash format with PDF, made possible by Adobe’s acquisition a few years back of Macromedia, creator of the Flash and Shockwave browser add-ons.

    The popular YouTube website converts uploaded video, regardless of the original format, into Flash format. The new Acrobat does the same thing, outputting the result into a PDF file – at least if you buy Acrobat’s Extended version.
    Document comparison features and other new tools make it easier for workgroups to collaborate on document production, while integration with the new services lets a PDF document become the front-end for an online meeting, using’s ConnectNow service as the online meeting space. At the meeting, everyone’s view of the PDF file can be synchronized.

    As well, the new Acrobat offers scanning and optical character recognition features, attempting to locate forms in print documents and automatically convert them into editable fields in a form-based PDF file. Adobe 9 makes it easier to export form data to spreadsheets for analysis.

    Acrobat 9 comes in three flavours – at least for Windows users:

    •the $299 standard version allows users to create traditional PDF documents, to make the new PDF Portfolios and to create PDF forms, which can be filled using the free Adobe Reader;

    •the $449 Pro version adds collaboration and document comparison features;

    •to add non-Flash video to PDF documents, you’ll need the $699 Pro Extended version, which also includes Adobe Presenter to convert PowerPoint slideshows into multimedia PDF files. Mac users can only get the Pro version.

    An updated Adobe Creative Suite 3.3 version bundles the new Acrobat Pro with Photoshop and other Adobe products. Upgrade pricing is available for owners of previous versions, and free trial versions are available online.
    To read documents created including Acrobat’s new features, users will require an updated copy of the free Adobe Reader.

    Despite its new capabilities, Adobe promises Reader 9 will launch up to twice as fast as earlier versions.
    Adobe’s new free online service offers five gigabytes of file storage and sharing, (limited) online PDF creation, conferencing and screen-sharing and Buzzword – a Microsoft Word-compatible, Flash-based word processor. While there are hooks to these services built into the new Acrobat 9, anyone can sign up for them. •

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan
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