Dyce & Sons Ltd.

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Adobe Acrobat 4.0 Beta

Sunday 28th February, 1999

Acrobat is Adobe’s application-independent document delivery system. With it you can create electronic ‘printouts’ of your files from any application that supports PostScript or QuickDraw printers. These documents, stored in PDF (Portable Document Format), can then be viewed, annotated, and even printed or edited by people on another Mac, PC or Unix box without the need for the original application program, or copies of the fonts installed on your machine.

The most obvious change in version 4.0 is the new interface. With version 4.0, Adobe has attempted to bring Acrobat into line with its ‘standard’ user interface. Sporting the new 3D grey look, the toolbar has been extended down the left-hand side of the document window to allow more space for the new Annotation tools, with the document sidebar now displayed as a set of Photoshop-style tabs for Thumbnails, Bookmarks and Annotations. Annotations can now be added to documents in a variety of ways - as well as the small Post-It note icons, you can also add lines, circles, boxes, highlighter pen marks, strikethroughs and pre-defined rubber stamp items.

Each item has an associated note which is time- and author-stamped, and all annotations can be collected and saved as a separate PDF document for later review if required.

Apart from these enhancements, precious little has changed since version 3.0. The upgrade from version 2.0 to 3.0 was notable because it was the first incarnation of Acrobat to allow you to view PDF pages over the Web, using the Acrobat Reader plug-in. Another important addition in version 3.0 was the Acrobat indexing utility, Catalog, which allows you to create updatable, word-stemming indexes of multiple PDF files - useful if you want to search your back catalogue of 80,000 documents say. It was previously only available as a comparatively expensive optional extra.

However, it’s a different story with version 4.0. Although the blurb that accompanied the preview product announced a number of useful new features: drag-and-drop PDF creation; Microsoft Office integration; Paper Capture; Web Capture; structured bookmarks; digital signatures and document comparisons, none of this is relevant for Mac users. Of these seven ‘new’ features, one already comes as standard in the Mac OS (drag and dropping any document onto the PDFWriter desktop printer icon would produce the same result in Acrobat 3.0), one (Paper Capture) was already available for Windows users in version 3.0, and the other five aren’t yet available for the Mac OS. We’ll just have to wait around for version 5.0, I suppose.

However, the fact that Paper Capture has been included in version 4.0 for the Mac OS shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s Adobe’s answer to the obvious argument against using Acrobat as a long-term document storage system - ‘Yes, but all our old documents are on paper’. Using Paper Capture, document pages can be scanned and converted directly into PDF documents, either displayed as the original scans with the converted (and therefore searchable and copiable) text hidden underneath the image, or as a full typographic reproduction. It certainly sounds impressive, and having seen it in use on Windows in version 3.0, it does improve on the four-step process of scan, OCR, layout, and print-to-PDF in order to accomplish a similar feat on the Mac. Paper Capture works as a background server application activated from within the Acrobat Exchange editing environment. It can work with previously scanned pages, or acquire pages from a scanner directly in a similar fashion to Photoshop.

One slight niggle is that it can’t acquire pages directly from Visioneer Paperport scanners, so Visioneer users will have to scan documents themselves. Sadly, the beta version we tried was still quite buggy and massively memory hungry, and although it did manage to capture at least the title and general layout of a scanned document, it only managed to create a text representation of the title. Hopefully this will be addressed before the final version ships.

Strangely enough, the most important new element in version 4.0 is the one item to go unmentioned by Adobe in their PR sheet - in an effort to encourage more Web designers to consider the use of Acrobat in their Web sites, the Form Objects in Acrobat 4.0, allowing users to enter data on the Web and provide simply scripted user actions, are now JavaScript capable. Considering the changes that occurred in Web design after Netscape released their first JavaScript-capable browser, it’s odd Adobe isn’t screaming about this at the tops of its lungs - perhaps it’s not available on Windows yet?

Since the beta arrived without documentation, the object model for Acrobat documents couldn’t be easily determined, and no example scripts were provided, so it’s difficult to gauge the functionality available to would-be PDF Web masters. However, to its credit, Adobe does seem to have followed the ‘a job worth doing…’ maxim in the past, so perhaps we can look forward to an explosion of JavaScript PDF sites.

The beta of Acrobat 4.0 is interesting not just for the improvements to the Acrobat PDF architecture (remember we’re still awaiting announcements concerning K2), but also for what it tells us about Adobe. Firstly, unlike other Adobe products, given the disparity in feature sets, Acrobat 4.0 does give the impression the Mac OS version is the poor relation; perhaps the Acrobat development team are mainly Windows-based.

Secondly, despite the cross-platform Actions-style scripting in the graphics creation products, Adobe has adopted an (albeit cross-platform) scripting standard from elsewhere - perhaps this is an indication of the sort of scripting capability that will be available in the as yet unannounced, PDF-based, K2?

Although version 4.0 will probably only appeal to people who use Acrobat quite heavily, it does have some useful features that are worth looking at, and is especially useful if you have a large backlog of paper-based documents.


The latest incarnation of the PDF-based file transfer software has a revamped user interface.

Get Further Info
Rating BETA
Manufacturer Adobe Systems
Pros New annotation types ˜ Paper Capture facility ‚Äö√Ѭ¢JavaScriptable form objects
Cons Some new features not available for the Mac OS
Originally Published MacUser, Volume: 15, Issue: 4, p22