Adobe jumps into online collaboration with Acrobat 9

After so many years of trying to get its Acrobat software product to deliver the dynamic portable document format (PDF) capabilities that would make it a must-have application, Adobe Systems Inc. appears to have finally nailed it with Acrobat 9.

The San Jose, Calif-based software firm takes a giant leap into the online collaboration world with a trio of offerings that transforms PDF files from static e-mail documents to valuable meeting tools which can contain text, images, audio and video components.

The three new Adobe products are: Acrobat 9 Standard, a $299-package which includes various PDF Portfolio file manipulation features; the Acrobat 9 Pro with additional options list for $499; and the $699-Acrobat 9 Pro Extended which bundles Adobe Presenter for automating PowerPoint presentations with audio and video.

The top end-model can also convert various video file types into Flash video format and has a 3D mapping overlay to create PDF maps.

Essentially this means that Acrobat 9 users can create PDF-based presentation documents, dynamic forms, brochures, instruction materials, ads, even quizzes that have video, audio files and images not just static text and pictures. Adobe collaborative tools also enable multiple users to work together and edit the same document in real-time over the Internet, even when they are thousands of miles apart.

Seamlessly incorporating rich media into PDF documents in order to develop dynamic presentation files has long been a goal of Adobe, but previous attempts have been marred by bugs, disparate industry standards ad corporate security practices, according to a long-time independent Adobe user.

“The company had rich media capability perhaps as far back as Acrobat 5 in 2001, but nobody really used it the software because it had lots of bugs,” said Bob Connolly, principal of pdfPictures, a Toronto-based marketing firm specializing, rich media and virtual reality campaigns.

The early versions of Acrobat and Adobe Reader had the capability to run multimedia programs such as QuickTime, and Windows Media. However, those older Acrobat tools needed external players to make things happen.

Sometimes the setup didn’t match corporate systems and the whole thing did not function properly. In other instances, IT administrators did not allow the use of QuickTime in the workplace for fear that employees would use it to watch movies at work.

Windows Media, also did not work on Mac machines and the software did not allow for image manipulation

When Adobe first incorporated Flash on Acrobat 7, the multimedia vector animation software still required an external player and functionality was not as developers hoped it would be, said Connolly.

It was only after Adobe bought Flash’s maker, Macromedia, that the animation software was fully integrated into Acrobat. “Finally things came together and Flash was able to play properly on both Mac and PC platforms.”

He said, early one Adobe realized the potential of using PDF files. The files can be compressed to allow for much more efficient Internet downloads of video, audio and other data even when using dial-up connection.

“But more importantly people can distribute and share PDF files via e-mail more freely because such files are not blocked by most corporate firewalls.”

This made the tool ideal for either restricted or mass distribution in a local or global scale of various types of materials.

“The ability to publish to e-mail moves us into the social networking and collaboration space,” says Colin Smith, a senior solutions architect with Adobe.

Acrobat 9, Smith said, enables many non-technical users to publish highly polished and complex presentations or other rich media documents “with drag and drop simplicity”.

With Portfolio, users can create a suite of related files and documents, including an intro screen. The output can be read by anyone who has the free downloadable Adobe Reader 9.

Since Webpages are embedded onto the PDF document, Smith said, once people receive the file via e-mail they don’t even have to be online to view the Webpages. “People can choose to read through the document even when they’re at home.”

Smith said Adobe also recently launched in free beta test mode. This is a site contains a suite of services for online file sharing, storage and collaboration on documents. The site also has a PDF converter, online word processor and Web conferencing tool which lets users communicate online in real time.

Adobe also recently launched ConnectNow a site which provides groups of up to four people each to share control of a computer. “The portal is a great way for people to share ideas, discuss project detail and complete work together online,” said Smith.

One advantage these two services have over the popular Microsoft SharePoint collaboration tools is that the Adobe uses PDF files and therefore can operate on both Mac and PC platforms, Smith said.

The new Acrobat and collaboration sites are ideal for many training and project development activities, according to Mireille Massue, a Toronto-based writer for a training review publication.

She said one of the neat features of the product is that it facilitates better collaboration because it tracks minute changes in documents and provides detailed comparison of the old and new versions.

For example, users are informed if components such as pixels, colour, text, images, audio or video were altered. The product also indicates when and who made the revisions.

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