One important feature of the new Acrobat 9 isn’t even a part of the application: it’s Acrobat.com, a new Web site offering online services that help with a variety of communication tasks. Acrobat.com is only considered a beta at this pointâ€”it seems Adobe beta programs are everywhere these daysâ€”but it’s functional and a very exciting development for Acrobat and PDF in general.
The interface for Acrobat.com is extremely simple. Along with some links to various Adobe pages such as the Acrobat.com blog and forum, there are five online applications, created with Flex and Flash:
- Adobe Buzzword: Real-time creation and collaboration of documents, whether by yourself or with others.
- Adobe ConnectNow: Allows online meetings between up to three people. The interface and features mimic Acrobat Connect Pro.
- Create PDF: Upload files and convert them to PDF.
- Share: Acrobat.com can store and share documents for others to access.
- My Files: Online file storage for your documents.
Let’s take a look at each module.
Buzzword is an online word processor, which isn’t a new idea, but I like the fact that multiple people can work on a document at the same time. Collaborative word processing is really the reason to use Buzzword: not only can documents be edited together in real time, but commenting is easy to do and users’ comments are color-coded so it’s easy to know who is saying what. Documents are auto-saved and can be rolled back to earlier versions.
The other important feature in Buzzword is the ability to import and export documents and graphics. Buzzword will import Microsoft Word, text and Rich Text Format files, which means any desktop word processor or writing application will be able to create files usable in Buzzword. Buzzword files can be exported to PDF, Word, Text, Rich Text Format and HTML files. This is all good enough for most users, but I am surprised and disappointed Buzzword will only import and place JPEG, PNG and GIF imagesâ€”I expected Adobe to include support for native graphic formats like PSD and AI, which is more and more common thanks to InDesign’s support.
There are several more little features in Buzzword, such as:
- A display of a document’s collaborators, and what they are doing with the document at the moment,
- An organizer to list and sort your Buzzword documents and gain access to other documents at Acrobat.com,
- Access to documents from any computer with Internet and Flash Player, eliminating geographic and technological difficulties
- WYSIWYG printing: documents look the same in print as they are on screen
I myself am hard-pressed to see how Buzzword will help me in my daily work. If I collaborated on documents with a group of people I might really find a niche for itâ€”in fact, I’m considering using it for a copywriting project that a client and I will be working on in tandem. However, some elements of the user interface could be improved (such as the reveal/hide behavior of the buttons) and the ubiquity of Microsoft Word, TextEdit and other online word processor apps makes Buzzword a hard sell. The collaboration factor is what makes it exciting, and those who can use such interconnectedness will enjoy its features.
Adobe ConnectNow is nothing new: it’s basically Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro, limited to just three users. Acrobat Connect Pro has been in use for a year or two now and has proven to be a very good technology for webinars and online conferences; I attend several webinars and those powered with Acrobat Connect Pro run very smoothly. ConnectNow is designed for small meetings between creative professionals, clients and colleagues.
ConnectNow carries the usual feature set found in online conferencing applications:
- Audio and video, with multi-point video (web cams required)
- Chat and notes
- Unique URLs for meeting rooms for ease of use
- Remote controls: participants can control other users’ desktops for easy collaboration
A couple neat features are the ability to upload files and also draw freehand on the ConnectNow’s whiteboard.
There are some advanced Acrobat Connect Pro features not found in ConnectNow, such as the map showing participants’ locations and the ability to create surveys, but when a group is only two or three people it makes no sense to include these. I think ConnectNow is a wonderful addition to Acrobat.com, and it’s designed so one doesn’t need much computer savvy to use itâ€”that’s important when wanting to set up client conferences. I wish there was a method to purchase “meeting space” for more than three people, whether for a monthly fee or for a single fee as needed, but I suppose Adobe prefers users to upgrade to Acrobat Connect Pro if larger groups are needed.
Share, My Files and Create PDF
The other three components of Acrobat.com have relatively little functionality compared to Buzzword and ConnectNow, but they serve important roles.
Share provides online file sharing, which helps save storage space otherwise taken up by large e-mail attachments. I send proofs and print-ready PDFs all the time via e-mail so Share is vital in my work. My big problem with it is that everyone (clients and collaborators alike) need an Acrobat.com account before they can access files. Other than that, Share is a very good tool for online file sharing:
- PDFs and images are viewable within the online Share browser, providing a robust viewing experience
- File access can be open to anyone or limited to those with approved, authenticated e-mail addresses
- Documents are assigned unique URLs for easy access
- The Share interface can be embedded on other webpages so users can view files without entering Acrobat.com
There is one annoying bug in Share: comments added to the e-mail will not honor line breaks or paragraph breaks. I tried adding a series of notes to a shared e-mail sent to a client of mine, and it was sent as one large text block. Adobe tells me this is a known issue and should be fixed early next year.
My Files provides simple file storage and organization. There’s not much to say about the feature: it offers online access to files from anywhere, and your file library can be browsed by author, file type, alphabetical order, date of creation or last update, or a combination of these attributes. One can get this kind of online file storage from several other websites, so the real selling point for My Files is the fact that it’s in close proximity to the other Acrobat.com applications.
Create PDF, the final product in Acrobat.com, converts files to PDF format. Like My Files, this is offered by many other online products and there’s nothing that Create PDF does that no one else can’t do already. It’s nice that this particular product was created by the same company that invented the PDF format, but Create PDF doesn’t offer PDF presets, high-grade specifications such as PDF/X-4 or anything other than a simple conversion to a low-resolution PDF. It also converts only a few file formatsâ€”Text, Rich Text Format and Word docs were the only formats I was able to convert. Photoshop, InDesign, PDF and Word .docx formats were all unsupported. In the end, Create PDF is no substitute for Acrobat or PDF exporting from other applications.
Acrobat.com is an exciting venture, and one that Adobe is doing more and more of nowadaysâ€”Photoshop.com is another online service-based website that supports one of its flagship applications (and the Photoshop/Premiere Elements bundle, which I will be reviewing soon). Buzzword is probably the most versatile and interesting of the bunch, while the others do not provide much that isn’t already provided elsewhere. What makes Acrobat.com worth considering is its integration and connectedness with Acrobat, and the applications themselves are certainly well-designed and built with solid technology.