Anand Parthasarathy samples the new, improved Adobe Acrobat XI and rates it a huge advance on earlier editions
Like Microsoft's frontline Office products, Word and Powerpoint, Adobe's Photoshop tool for image editing and Acrobat for creating and editing documents in the PDF format, have become a standard we cannot afford to ignore. The ' open' part of my gut still roots for non-proprietary options like OpenOffice, Gimp and ODF. But the realist in me keeps reminding that a day rarely passes without my having to open a PDF file or tweak a jpeg in Photoshop. So a new iteration of Adobe Acrobat always gets my sharp attention, if not my roll-over-and-fall enthusiasm. That is because versions 1 to 10 have seen incremental improvements and tweaking to address minor problems. Adobe seemed not to be hearing the perennial grumbles about poor user interfaces when it came to editing and less-than-perfect conversion to other document formats. With the new version XI released last month, I am happy to say, this has all changed. Adobe has Seen the Light, read the smoke signals, caught the customer gripes 'blowin' in the wind' -- use whatever metaphor you fancy, biblical, Sioux or Dylan.
For Acrobat XI, some one seems to have delivered Adobe's developers a swift kick in sensitive regions and told them to forget about namke-vastey ( name sake) improvements in homoeopathic doses -- and redo the whole thing, bottom up.
The result --for those, like me who need to create PDFs all the time, when they are not editing someone else's PDFs -- is monumental and in-the-face, the moment you have installed the software ( 2-3 minutes max) and opened a document you want to edit. Click on the Tools button and you get a new drop down menu called "Content Editing". This is not that crude old Text Edit tool but a brand new feature. If you choose "Edit Text & Images", it automatically demarcates every heading, paragraph or image in the document with a box around it. All you need is to work within the box, making changes in the way we are all used to -- which, let's face it , is how we do it in an MS Word document. You can add new text, while the old is reformatted and word-wrapped; add new images or resize an existing image -- all fairly easily. There is a small limitation, I guess because Acrobat is organised more like the old DTP pagemakers rather than like a word processor, ie in fixed blocks of objects across the page.
So you may find the slabs of text don't move smoothly down when the one you are editing grows with new text. I found this to be a minor ( but in my unexpert opinion, an avoidable) limitation. The solution is to fall back on the option we have been using for many years ie convert the document to a format you are familiar with -- say Word -- complete your editing and then convert back to PDF. I used the new Acrobat to create a newsletter monthly chore for me -- and at one point, I completed the task in Word before saving as PDF, in the interests of time. I don't know; maybe as I discover the full functionality of Acrobat XI, this may not be necessary,. Incidentally, conversion to other formats is now far, far smoother than anything we have seen in earlier versions -- and doesn't leave ugly, unprocessed slabs of text or images which cannot be moved or deleted. You can now save PDF documents as PowerPoint, Word or Excel files or reuse parts of or entire PDF files as Microsoft Office documents.
Drag-and-drop combination. The other area where Version XI seems to have addresses user concerns is in the feature where one can combine PDF files in a new binder. I tend to do this about 3 times a week usually to address administrative tasks like preparing a travel and tour bill -- you know filling a form then attaching miscellaneous and variously sized, taxi receipts, train or flight tickets, scans of boarding passes, credit card slips, hotel invoices. Combining jpeg scans with Word docs and PDF form fillers into a single mailable document to satisfy sceptical accountants, used to be a chore I hated. With Acrobat XI, its a cinch. The entire Combine tool has become graphical. You can preview all the content within the combining pane and -- really usefully -- edit and discard pages before reordering them for the final PDF doc. It may have been one small step for the guys who made this happen, but it is a giant leap in user friendliness.
I also noticed that as soon as my installation of Acrobat XI was complete, it generated a separate desktop icon called Adobe Forms Central. Adobe seems to have improved its old form-creation and processing tools in atleast one important way: You can use it outside of Acrobat or inside, depending on your mood and need. The creation of new forms also seems to be easier in a made-for-dummies way.
As before, you can affix digital signatures -- but that needs a separate paid utility EchoSign as indeed do some of the advanced features in Forms Central. Acrobat has moved many of its tools like Forms Central to the Cloud ( though the essential tools reside on the desktop) and I think for optimally exploiting many of the new features, one would need to be connected.
I tried out the product on a desktop -- but Adobe's documentation points to some touch-sensitive new extensions which make it easy to view and edit documents on tablets, smart phones and the like. In fact the free Acrobat XI PDF Reader provides now with full support for iPads and Android tablets.
In summary, Acrobat XI is such a huge improvement over earlier versions that current users especially those who need to do regular and heavy PDF editing will feel the need to upgrade as soon as possible -- rather than waiting for a couple of editions to roll by as so many of us have tended to do in the past. Upgrade download prices are around half the street price.
Acrobat XI is available in India in Standard and Professional versions at Rs 19,001 and 28,502 respectively. Special educational pricing for certified students and teachers at around 1/4th the full price are being offered ( http://www.adobe.com/in/education.html ) The Professional version may be of interest mainly to enterprises and graphics designers who may need to customize documents for high-quality print and web output or to create PDFs from CAD software and the like. You can explore the specifics of the two versions here: http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobatstandard.html