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Adobe Acrobat X Pro: impressive release

Adobe Acrobat X Pro: impressive release

Automating repetitive tasks

If you're always looking for ways to automate repetitive tasks, Acrobat X Pro's new custom actions--built with the Action Wizard--is just what you've been waiting for. Using a visual point-and-click builder dialog box, you can chain together any number of commands and functions into a macro-like action. These actions can be shared among other Acrobat X users.

Although the possibilities of actions are endless, the ones included with the program offer examples of what you can accomplish, such as initiate document reviews, reduce file size, perform secure redactions, and more. Whether starting from a pre-built action or from scratch, just about anything you can manually do to a PDF in Acrobat can be performed via an action.

New Reader commenting tools

Although this review is about Acrobat X Pro, the PDF creation tool, PDFs are created to be read--often with the free Adobe Reader. Therefore, improvements to Adobe Reader X's experience are important to PDF producers.

Until now, Reader users have been unable to mark up and comment on PDFs unless the file creator specifically enabled that feature. With this version, Reader X users can highlight text and add sticky notes to any PDF file, regardless of whether the PDF producer activated the advanced Reader commenting features in Acrobat 9 or earlier versions. In fact, users of Adobe Reader X can even comment on specific video frames embedded in a PDF.

If your PDF readers need even more document modification capabilities, such as digitally signing a document or adding drawing mark-ups like callout boxes, arrows, and stamps, the creator must still enable that function in Acrobat X Pro. The command has moved, however. Now, you must choose File -> Save As -> Reader Extended PDF and then select either Enable Adding Text in Documents (that are not fillable forms), Enable Commenting & Measuring, or Enable Additional Features. The additional features are the ability to save form data from a fillable form, sign a signature field, digitally sign the document, and use all of Reader's built in commenting and drawing mark-up tools. Files can also be Reader-enabled automatically as part of the process of creating a shared review.

Microsoft Office export

The PDF file format was originally conceived as a final distributable unit--meaning that content distributed as a PDF would never need to be converted to or extracted for other uses. Despite that, frequently we want to get textual content out to a word processor and tabular data into our spreadsheet applications from finished PDFs. Adobe has addressed these needs by improving content export functionality over time. Acrobat X is the best version yet, exporting accurately formatted content to Microsoft Word, Rich Text Format, and HTML, and XML and tabular data to Microsoft Excel and XML spreadsheet formats. Within Acrobat X, simply choose File -> Save As and pick the desired output format from the submenus.

I tested PDFs created from Adobe InDesign ( Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice ), QuarkXPress ( Macworld rated 3.5 out of 5 mice ), and Microsoft Word ( Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice ) documents. The types of documents varied from entirely textual single-column pages with lots of formatting (many fonts, colors, and styles) to multi-column documents with floated and anchored images and inline tables. I then saved these PDFs as Word (.docx)  and Word 97--2003 (.doc) formats. It took Acrobat X Pro longer to convert the same documents than Acrobat 9 Pro, but the results were well worth the extra minute or two. With few exceptions, I was astounded by the visual fidelity of the conversion. In each of my test documents the text formatting was beautiful--fonts, sizes, colors, even bullets and numbers were preserved, although the bullets and numbers came across as selectable text, as opposed to non-selectable graphic ornaments. Images were included in the Word documents where they existed in the PDF, positioned if not precisely in the right places on the page, at least as close as Word's limited understanding of layout allowed.

The results I got from exporting tabular content to Excel and XML spreadsheet format were also impressive. Formatting came through crystal clear, including most cell strokes and background shading. I did notice that very light shading--say, 10--30 percent of a color--didn't always survive the conversion from PDF table to Excel table.

More details

In terms of speed and performance, I found Acrobat X Pro to be about the same as Acrobat 9 Pro. That conclusion is based on tests such as creating PDFs from different sources, combining multiple PDFs, running OCR on scanned documents, searching for keywords in documents, and using various wizards.

Speaking of searching, there is no longer a Find or search field visible in Acrobat X Pro. You can still search for text in documents, of course, by pressing CMD+F to pop open a temporary Find field. I doubt most users, especially that large portion of online users who employ their browsers' Google Search field as an address bar, will recognise that they can still search within PDFs. (Adobe says its test users had no trouble invoking a search on their own without the box.) I think removing the previously omnipresent Find field from Acrobat's toolbar is a big mistake--especially since the Common Tools toolbar, the one underneath the Quick Tools toolbar containing the navigation, zoom, and task pane buttons, has so much empty and now wasted space. However, you can insert a Find text button (which gives you a field when you click it) into that space, if you want to.

In addition to a handy feature that shows you the strength of your password, Acrobat X also boasts some other niceties. While scanning a document, Acrobat now automatically detects whether the document is in color or grayscale, adjusting options to compensate. OCR character recognition has also been strengthened to return fewer misspellings on scanned documents. A new Read Mode unclutters the interface, maximising the space available for reading, and showing a navigation bar only when you hover your mouse over the document.

Acrobat X Pro is tightly integrated with online and server systems, too. Documents may be sent for review via Acrobat.com, and very large files, such as those that might result from combining an array of documents into a PDF Portfolio, may be distributed via the new SendNow file hosting service of Acrobat.com.

Macworld's buying advice

If you can manage to find all the commands you need in the menus, task panes, Quick Tools, or other toolbars, you'll find that Acrobat X Pro is a fantastic program with universal function improvement, phenomenal content-exporting capabilities, incredible power to automate task- and document- processing, and compelling document-distribution capabilities. Unfortunately, Acrobat X's messy and unintuitive new user interface throttles the excitement somewhat and makes this less than a must-buy application.

Acrobat X Pro lists online for A$644.45, or A$286.36 for an upgrade.

Automating repetitive tasks

If you're always looking for ways to automate repetitive tasks, Acrobat X Pro's new custom actions--built with the Action Wizard--is just what you've been waiting for. Using a visual point-and-click builder dialog box, you can chain together any number of commands and functions into a macro-like action. These actions can be shared among other Acrobat X users.

Although the possibilities of actions are endless, the ones included with the program offer examples of what you can accomplish, such as initiate document reviews, reduce file size, perform secure redactions, and more. Whether starting from a pre-built action or from scratch, just about anything you can manually do to a PDF in Acrobat can be performed via an action.

New Reader commenting tools

Although this review is about Acrobat X Pro, the PDF creation tool, PDFs are created to be read--often with the free Adobe Reader. Therefore, improvements to Adobe Reader X's experience are important to PDF producers.

Until now, Reader users have been unable to mark up and comment on PDFs unless the file creator specifically enabled that feature. With this version, Reader X users can highlight text and add sticky notes to any PDF file, regardless of whether the PDF producer activated the advanced Reader commenting features in Acrobat 9 or earlier versions. In fact, users of Adobe Reader X can even comment on specific video frames embedded in a PDF.

If your PDF readers need even more document modification capabilities, such as digitally signing a document or adding drawing mark-ups like callout boxes, arrows, and stamps, the creator must still enable that function in Acrobat X Pro. The command has moved, however. Now, you must choose File -> Save As -> Reader Extended PDF and then select either Enable Adding Text in Documents (that are not fillable forms), Enable Commenting & Measuring, or Enable Additional Features. The additional features are the ability to save form data from a fillable form, sign a signature field, digitally sign the document, and use all of Reader's built in commenting and drawing mark-up tools. Files can also be Reader-enabled automatically as part of the process of creating a shared review.

Microsoft Office export

The PDF file format was originally conceived as a final distributable unit--meaning that content distributed as a PDF would never need to be converted to or extracted for other uses. Despite that, frequently we want to get textual content out to a word processor and tabular data into our spreadsheet applications from finished PDFs. Adobe has addressed these needs by improving content export functionality over time. Acrobat X is the best version yet, exporting accurately formatted content to Microsoft Word, Rich Text Format, and HTML, and XML and tabular data to Microsoft Excel and XML spreadsheet formats. Within Acrobat X, simply choose File -> Save As and pick the desired output format from the submenus.

I tested PDFs created from Adobe InDesign ( Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice ), QuarkXPress ( Macworld rated 3.5 out of 5 mice ), and Microsoft Word ( Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice ) documents. The types of documents varied from entirely textual single-column pages with lots of formatting (many fonts, colors, and styles) to multi-column documents with floated and anchored images and inline tables. I then saved these PDFs as Word (.docx)  and Word 97--2003 (.doc) formats. It took Acrobat X Pro longer to convert the same documents than Acrobat 9 Pro, but the results were well worth the extra minute or two. With few exceptions, I was astounded by the visual fidelity of the conversion. In each of my test documents the text formatting was beautiful--fonts, sizes, colors, even bullets and numbers were preserved, although the bullets and numbers came across as selectable text, as opposed to non-selectable graphic ornaments. Images were included in the Word documents where they existed in the PDF, positioned if not precisely in the right places on the page, at least as close as Word's limited understanding of layout allowed.

The results I got from exporting tabular content to Excel and XML spreadsheet format were also impressive. Formatting came through crystal clear, including most cell strokes and background shading. I did notice that very light shading--say, 10--30 percent of a color--didn't always survive the conversion from PDF table to Excel table.

More details

In terms of speed and performance, I found Acrobat X Pro to be about the same as Acrobat 9 Pro. That conclusion is based on tests such as creating PDFs from different sources, combining multiple PDFs, running OCR on scanned documents, searching for keywords in documents, and using various wizards.

Speaking of searching, there is no longer a Find or search field visible in Acrobat X Pro. You can still search for text in documents, of course, by pressing CMD+F to pop open a temporary Find field. I doubt most users, especially that large portion of online users who employ their browsers' Google Search field as an address bar, will recognise that they can still search within PDFs. (Adobe says its test users had no trouble invoking a search on their own without the box.) I think removing the previously omnipresent Find field from Acrobat's toolbar is a big mistake--especially since the Common Tools toolbar, the one underneath the Quick Tools toolbar containing the navigation, zoom, and task pane buttons, has so much empty and now wasted space. However, you can insert a Find text button (which gives you a field when you click it) into that space, if you want to.

In addition to a handy feature that shows you the strength of your password, Acrobat X also boasts some other niceties. While scanning a document, Acrobat now automatically detects whether the document is in color or grayscale, adjusting options to compensate. OCR character recognition has also been strengthened to return fewer misspellings on scanned documents. A new Read Mode unclutters the interface, maximising the space available for reading, and showing a navigation bar only when you hover your mouse over the document.

Acrobat X Pro is tightly integrated with online and server systems, too. Documents may be sent for review via Acrobat.com, and very large files, such as those that might result from combining an array of documents into a PDF Portfolio, may be distributed via the new SendNow file hosting service of Acrobat.com.

Macworld's buying advice

If you can manage to find all the commands you need in the menus, task panes, Quick Tools, or other toolbars, you'll find that Acrobat X Pro is a fantastic program with universal function improvement, phenomenal content-exporting capabilities, incredible power to automate task- and document- processing, and compelling document-distribution capabilities. Unfortunately, Acrobat X's messy and unintuitive new user interface throttles the excitement somewhat and makes this less than a must-buy application.

Acrobat X Pro lists online for A$644.45, or A$286.36 for an upgrade.


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