Adobe Acrobat advances concept of 'paperless office'

Businesss in Vancouver ISSUE 609: June 26, 2001
The high-tech office column
by ALAN ZISMAN (c) 2001

The once-vaunted "paperless office," promised as an outcome of the digital revolution, never quite got here. Even with e-mail replacing inter-office memos and Internet-based order processing, office photocopiers and laser printers continue to churn away as busily as ever.

Electronic documents have a growing presence, however. While a standard word processor file could qualify, documents created by products such as the commonly used Adobe Acrobat go a step beyond.

Acrobat PDF files are widespread on the Internet and on CD because they have several advantages over both standard HTML Web pages or files produced by word processors or other applications.

Unlike Web pages, Acrobat documents retain the look and feel of your original page design. If you've produced an attractive catalogue, for example, your Acrobat document will look on screen like the print version. Acrobat documents can even be viewed online in your Web browser.

Unlike most word processor or page layout documents, Acrobat documents can be opened and viewed by users who don't have a copy of the application used to produce it. Using the popular and freely downloadable version of Adobe's Acrobat Reader, users can view an Acrobat version of your catalogue or brochure, regardless of which software produced it or which platform was used -- a Windows computer, a Mac, an OS/2, Unix or Linux system, even a Palm or Visor handheld.

And if you send a copy of, say, a Microsoft Word document as an e-mail attachment, the recipient can open the document, make changes and pass it off as your original. As the name suggests, the free Acrobat Reader is read-only. Look, but don't touch.

While the Reader is free, to produce Acrobat documents you need to purchase the $375 (upgrade, $150) full Adobe Acrobat package, now in a new version 5.

Unlike most applications, you don't type into Acrobat. Instead, it installs as a printer driver. That makes it accessible to virtually all your other programs. Create a document in whatever program you normally use, then "print" it to Acrobat, just as you would to a physical printer. You end up with a PDF file equivalent of your paper output, ready for distribution.

You can do more than simply create a digital version of a paper document, however. You can create a hypertext table of contents or index, for example.

Similarly, links in a Web page converted to PDF remain live. You can digitally sign your documents or set security restrictions, allowing select users to make changes, export images or more, while other readers can just view the document. The new version features more powerful 128-bit encryption than previous versions.

Also new to version 5 are features that make it possible to integrate PDF documents with online XML content. This makes it easier to migrate paper forms to the Web, integrating user input with your corporate database.

With its abilities to make content look the same onscreen and across platforms as on paper, Adobe is hoping to extend Acrobat's reach. The product forms the basis of Adobe's free E-book Reader, to read electronic books onscreen.

And its technology is used, behind the scenes, for screen displays in Apple's OS X operating system. As a result, users of that new system can, from its Print Preview dialogue boxes, create basic Acrobat PDF files from an OS X application. To get beyond the basics, they too may want to purchase the full Adobe Acrobat package.

By the way, though the free Acrobat Reader is installed on millions of computers, users of older versions of the Reader may find themselves unable to read Acrobat files produced with later Acrobat versions. Check for the free version 5 download.

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