Adobe has updated its PDF creation range of products and free viewers. It seems Adobe is not just interested in documents anymore but also real-time business meetings, says Martyn Day.
PDF has become a de facto standard in many businesses ± perhaps, in many cases, just for the lowly capture and distribution of company information – but reading through the product feature list you soon begin to realise that Acrobat is a real ÙSwiss Army knifeÝ style application with many potentially useful capabilities that donÝt get that widely used.
In a generic business sense, PDFs could also be used as part of an email solution, archiving your Outlook contents for safe and compressed access to emails. While project documentation may be created in a number of different applications, with digital and paper-based correspondence, all these pages can be brought together within a PDF to require only one application to read, print and mark it up. PDF could be a collaborative solution for the proofing of most documents (with a nice integration to Microsoft Word). Adobe has made PDF an open archiving format too, so it could be used to store all old digital or paper (via a scanner). PDF documents can be watermarked/digitally signed and protected for safety in an extended distribution. Electronic forms can be fairly easily generated as PDFs, emailed, filled in and returned. If you are browsing the Web and want to capture a website, you can extract it out to PDF, to a number of user-specified levels, always having a copy of a website as your reference on your laptop ± although this is a one time snap shot and will need updating. Alternatively PDF documents can be incorporated into websites as additional content.
IÝm thinking off the top of my head here, there are many other uses for Acobat in a typical working environment and I havenÝt even started to consider the explicit requirements of engineering, which Adobe started to really concentrate on from Acrobat 6 onwards. This is why when I think about Acrobat, I think a Swiss Army knife for documents.
At first glance the product suite is a little confusing as Adobe does offer a troupe of Acrobats! Today, the Acrobat family consists of Acrobat 8 Professional, Acrobat 8 Standard, Acrobat 8 Elements, Acrobat 3D Version 8, and two new products called Acrobat Connect, and Acrobat Connect Professional (which are both accessible from within Acrobat). As one would expect these offer different levels of functionality at a number of price points. IÝm only going to concentrate on the features within Acrobat Professional as it is the version to get if youÝre using a 2D CAD tool like AutoCAD. Acrobat 8 Standard, Professional, Connect and Connect Professional will all be ready to ship around November. Acrobat 3D Version 8 will not ship until some time early next year. Acrobat 3D version 7 only came out earlier this year and is a specific version of Acrobat that deals with 3D models from all kinds of high-end CAD applications. Version 8 will include powerful CAD format technology that Adobe recently acquired along with a data translation company in France, TTF. Adobe had been using IntelÝs U3D tessellated file format but it lacked community support, so in addition Adobe will be including TTFÝs PRC format in AcrobatÝs 3D functionality, allowing very high definition (yet small file size), non-tessellated models to be included to PDFs, which are good enough, so Adobe keeps saying, to manufacture directly from!
According to Ralph Grabowski (www.upfrontezine.com), the forthcoming release of Acrobat 3D Version 8 will also export drawings/models in STEP, IGES, and Parasolid formats. And Grabowski states that this means the product becomes a sub ú1,000 3D CAD drawing translator. ItÝs clear that Adobe is really looking to offer some very high-end capabilities in PDF for manufacturing but this product will appear early next year.
Back to the current release of Acrobat 8 Professional, Adobe has added some significant new capabilities within the family and the most glaringly obvious inclusion is a vamped up Macromedia Breeze product, to allow remote meetings to take place. This, I think, has a fair amount of generic appeal, although it does compete against a number of free ÙinstantÝ and video messaging solutions that are out there. Called Adobe Connect and Adobe Connect Professional you literally have a digital office, where you can arrange to ÙmeetÝ people (up to 15 at once) via a number of ways; Voice Over IP (Internet Telephony), video conferencing, text-based Instant messaging and you can share documents that are on your desktop, like a PowerPoint, or a document up for review, perhaps even a 3D model. WhatÝs neat about Connect is that itÝs an all in one interface and it captures everything thatÝs written or said, so you can keep track of meetings. To do this with a hotchpotch of applications would be a pain.
" ItÝs worth upgrading for the speed improvement on its own to be honest – itÝs that dramatic, especially for use with the web and DWGs. "
The standard Connect is a subscription service paid per month or per year. Connect Professional adds features like bigger group capability, audience polling, customised layouts, the voice capability and multiple meeting rooms ± this is paid on a per company basis depending on the number of users. Organisations can deploy Acrobat Connect Professional in either an on-premise, behind the firewall configuration, or through AdobeÝs hosted service. It will be fascinating to see how Adobe fares with this part of the Acrobat family. Remote meeting technology is not new but is gaining ground. Adobe has pulled all the formats together to make a professional suite but is offering it as a hosted service. Maybe the market is right for this technology and a ÙprofessionalÝ level product. I am sure we will review Connect separately after Acrobat ships.
Acrobat 8 features
IÝve been playing with the beta of Acrobat now for a couple of months. I have both the Apple Mac and PC versions. At this point, itÝs worth pointing out that that there is no Mac version of the Acrobat 3D product and unlikely to be one, Apple Macs just donÝt get used in the 3D CAD space that much ± although with the new Intel-based Macs and products like Boot Camp from Apple, enabling a Mac to become a Windows or Mac OSX machine, a Mac could possibly run Acrobat 3D.
The first thing I subliminally noticed was on installation with Acrobat adding some acceleration technology to my web browser. The benefit of this only became apparent when I accidentally clicked on a PDF on a website. Out of habit I have learnt not to click on PDFs on websites as everything slows down as Acrobat launches, I just opt to read an HTML of the PDF. With 8, I didnÝt even have time to regret or even notice I had clicked on a PDF, it was almost instant. I only checked what I had loaded as there was a slick document interface that had appeared in my browser and I didnÝt know where it had come from. This, I found out, was the new look Acrobat interface.
So, the longstanding speed issue has been addressed in this release and this is on many different levels, from loading up to PDF conversion. I am pleased to report there have been some major improvements. File conversion of DWGs now no longer needs AutoCAD to be present on your machine, you can just drag and drop a DWG into a PDF and the conversion process is noticeably 100Ýs of times quicker than Acrobat version 7.
Also new to Acrobat 8 is a redaction tool. This capability allows you to go through documents and literally block out sensitive lines of text from documents to safely send information to other project participants. Acrobat also checks unseen data like metadata, headers and footers to make sure that phrases or words have been removed and blacked out within the document,. This works with digital docs or scanned in and OCRed (Optical Character Recognised) text. An example would be that you want to remove the name of a product from a document, so you search out instances of that product name and get Acobat to block it out before you send that PDF to someone. This is clever stuff.
To create a form for collecting information, Adobe didnÝt always have the easiest solution to get your head around. In Acrobat 8 it couldnÝt be simpler. ThereÝs a new auto recognition capability which means you could create a form as a simple Word document and then get Acrobat to auto-create a PDF form from that layout, with the application automatically working out where user-fill-able fields should go. Acrobat also comes with a Forms design package that is really easy to use and puts PDF form generation in the hands of all users.
Acrobat 8 users can bundle and send documents in a ýPDF package,¯ which works like ZIP folders but with be password-protection and encryption. Packages can contain PDFs, as well as the real native files from other applications. It also supports ÙnestedÝ protected PDFs, or ones that have been previously digitally signed.
In the past all the docs would have been put in a single PDF as ÙpagesÝ within that PDF file, the process would break any existing digital signatures. Now, staking the documents means previously protected docs can be included and the encryption protection can be applied to native docs, not just PDFs. PDF Packages are just a bigger wrapper, I guess, but it also means that Acrobat could be used a security tool for any documents that you want to transmit.
When you install Acrobat 8 Professional on a machine with AutoCAD, it adds the PDF creation button to the menu bar. In fact when you install Acrobat onto a machine, youÝd be surprised as to where PDF creation tools pop-up, in most applications, on the right click, Print or pull-downs, Acrobat gets its presence noticed.
The battle is on for the hearts and minds of the Autodesk installed based with regard to web formats. Autodesk is pushing DWF, while Adobe is pushing Acrobat PDF. DWF is free in nearly all Autodesk products, PDF is also now ÙfreeÝ in the latest release of AutoCAD, as Autodesk added its own PDF creation tool in there (not using AdobeÝs PDF libraries). PDF out was No.1 in the AutoCAD User Wish List for a number of years, and with Autodesk on the DWF campaign it was a strange move to include a PDF writer in there as itÝs a double edged sword to DWF. It will however, make some users question the need to purchase Acrobat perhaps, Adobe will have to make the case as to why AutodeskÝs version of ÙPDF outÝ is not a replacement.
Acrobat 8 Professional offers the capability of flattening AutoCAD layers. ThereÝs a handy Batch mode to convert huge numbers of DWGs to PDFs. And itÝs worth mentioning again that you can now just drag and drop DWG files into Acrobat to make a PDF – and you donÝt even have to have AutoCAD or LT on your system to this. You can combine multiple layouts or drawings into one PDF and package them up with the PDF package utility (as explained above). ItÝs also possible for an Acrobat 8 Professional user to now enable the Watermark capability within standard, free, Acrobat Reader. There is a rudimentary dimensioning capability in case you need to add them to a drawing. As they use a different dimensioning style they stick out like a sore thumb against any existing dimensions but perhaps thatÝs a good thing, you know what was original and what isnÝt.
Acrobat has had a good general work-over and clean up in this release. ItÝs easier to use, faster, more capable and just feels smarter. ItÝs worth upgrading for the speed improvement on its own to be honest – itÝs that dramatic, especially for use with the web and DWGs. Removing the reliance on having AutoCAD present to make PDFs will benefit LT users everywhere, although I do wonder what libraries Adobe is using for this conversion and if the PDF is as accurate as performing the conversion using an ÙofficialÝ Autodesk product. AdobeÝs strategy appears to be two fold for AcrobatÝs development, go deeper into verticals (3D) and broaden the range of rich media types it can work with and services it can offer (Connect). The purchase of TTF is more than just an indication that Adobe has big plans for the MCAD (Mechanical CAD) space, although these have yet to be fully explained. The development of Connect really takes Adobe into a different place, covering voice, video and real-time collaboration. In a strange sense, Adobe is moving away from just looking after the documentation side of things to playing a more active part in providing the forum where group decisions are made to now amend, alter and edit the information within the PDFs.
Many Adobe employees keep quoting that Ùyou will be able to manufacture from PDFÝ. This is probably the best indication of where Adobe wants to take things in the vertical MCAD market. For now this is a tad scary concept as Adobe has really only just stuck its toe in the MCAD sector, IÝm not too sure how far many engineers will trust a PDF, in terms of accuracy, especially when manufacturing has so many dedicated products to it. However, I do like the concept that in the future, if you break a part on a car, you email your local body shop with the PDF of what you need, for them to Ùrun one offÝ from their rapid manufacturing system for you to pick up. IÝm guessing Adobe see the engineering market as a good bet for PDF as it could act as a unifying format in an industry that has no unifying format.