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Acrobat 5.0

Saturday 14th July, 2001

Never a company to do things by halves, Adobe has clearly set out to make Acrobat the tool of choice for working with documents in the corporate world. Acrobat is now more standards compliant, with additions to the feature set aimed at document Web deployment and collaborative working.

Improvements to the Web interface mean you can now add annotations across the Web when you view PDF documents in the Acrobat browser plug-in. The annotation tools themselves remain unchanged, which means they are pretty extensive.

To provide this functionality, Adobe has changed Acrobat in three ways. First, you can have multi-user access to the same PDF file. Second, Acrobat can access Web databases - for example, a WebDAV server, or an ODBC data source. When a Web user adds a comment to a PDF document, the document remains unaltered, but the comments are stored in the appropriate database. Whenever the document is viewed, Acrobat loads the original PDF and then overwrites it with the comments from the data server. Third, the security features for individual Acrobat documents have been updated, increasing the ‘granularity’ of the security - that is, providing more options for making documents secure. It is now possible to let someone read and annotate a document, without allowing them to edit it.

In addition to a finer security definition, Adobe has also provided more ways to make a document secure: you can now select self-sign 128-bit public encryption for your document. The first time you use self-sign security, you can generate a new user profile. For this, Acrobat generates a 1024-bit RSA public key and saves it to a password secured file. You can then digitally sign a document, so someone with your public key can verify that the document is from you and hasn’t been altered since you saved it. Using public key encryption you can also set the security features for your document on an individual basis, so that different recipients have different rights - Mr A can edit it, but Mr B can only view it. To do this you need to have their public keys. Acrobat makes this a piece of cake, by providing a built-in email tool that lets you send other people your public key. By providing this technology within the application itself, it’s going to be more likely that people will use it.

Common ground

At last, Adobe has acknowledged the existence of document formats other than PDF. You can now open most common types of documents - text, RTF and image types supported by the OS and QuickTime - directly in Acrobat. And once open you can save them as PDFs. You can, of course, still create PDF documents via the Print command, but the PDFWriter is gone. Instead, you use the Adobe PS printer driver, selecting ‘Create PDF’ as the printer.

Adobe has gone a stage further in its adoption of common file formats, providing tools for saving the text of a PDF document as text or RTF, and for extracting every image from a file as either a JPEG, PNG or TIFF file. And say goodbye to PDF documents without thumbnails - they are now generated on the fly, saving both file space and frustration at poorly created PDFs.

Techies will also welcome Acrobat 5.0. The latest version of the Portable Document Format is 1.4. It now includes support for double-byte characters and with its more intelligent handling of conflicting name-spaces and font descriptions, this means sharing documents in Asian languages is much easier. More importantly, the document structure has been enhanced to include XML tagging and a document hierarchy. Acrobat also supports a superset of JavaScript, so if people are viewing your PDFs in a browser for, say, form filling, you can provide additional user interaction. And if you like to generate your own PDFs manually, PDF marks allow you to embed Acrobat reader functions within your home-rolled PDFs.

In terms of bureau work, new functionality allows you to batch various tasks on groups of PDFs, such as setting of security or printing the first page. Batch processing is now controlled by a FileMaker-like scripting interface, so you can create and share batch scripts - although this was a little buggy in testing. On-screen proofers will be cheered up with the colour-managed previews, spot colour overprint views and paper colour simulation. And if, after all that, you still want to print to paper, then Acrobat lets you tile large documents across several pages instead of forcing you to shrink to fit.

It’s not perfect and those waiting for Mac OS X compatibility will be sorely disappointed, but there’s enough in Acrobat 5.0 to attract new users and give existing users every reason to upgrade.


It’s not perfect and those waiting for Mac OS X compatibility will be sorely disappointed.

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Rating 4.5
Manufacturer Adobe Systems
Pros Public key based security + JavaScript + Batch scripting
Cons Not Mac OS X-native
Price 169
Originally Published MacUser, Volume: 17, Issue: 13, p