GeekSpeak for 2003-05-23

Adobe Acrobat

The digital file format pdf(Portable Document Format)
is in wide use. The concept behind pdf is simple, make a standard file format to
use in the distribution of electronic documents. From Adobe Jonathan Knowles,
Acrobat Evangelist, joins the geeks for a disscussion of Adobe Acrobat and the
pdf(Portable Document Format) format.


Jonathan Knowles
As the worldwide evangelist for the Adobe ePaper division, Jonathan Knowles is a primary spokesperson
for Adobe Acrobat, Adobe PDF , and Adobe’s dynamic document generation, document collaboration
and process management technologies and solutions. In his role, Knowles also serves as a senior member
of the product management and marketing team defi ning future product requirements, developing
messaging and branding strategies, and identifying partner outreach opportunities.

The digital file format PDF is in wide use. The concept behind PDF is simple; make a standard file format that can easily be used for the distribution of electronic documents. Jonathan Knowles, an Adobe Acrobat Evangelist Adobe Systems, joined the geeks for a discussion of current and forthcoming new versions of Adobe Acrobat and the PDF format.

PDF stands for Portable Document Format. The Adobe Acrobat Reader, a freely downloadable application from Adobe, is used to view PDF files and the full version of Adobe Acrobat is used to create PDF files. Adobe Distiller, on the other hand, is a utility found in the current version 5 of Adobe Acrobat that allows the creation of a PDF file from any application via the printer interface.

What are PDF files used for? The benefit of PDF files is the ability to display files exactly as they were intended to be viewed – including the original fonts the document was created with and the specific way it was created and laid out, which is also referred to as the formatting of the document. And, when the document is viewed, it must look exactly the same away no matter which operating system is being used. This was quite a tough job for the early architects of the PDF format.

Early on, Adobe understood that a free reader was required if the standard was going to become successful. Adobe accomplished both feats with the introduction of Adobe Acrobat, the software used to make PDF files, and the PDF file itself which is today public specification and a standard that is heavily used by other standards bodies, companies, and governments. Even Google indexes the content of PDF files so that PDF files can be searched for.

Adobe, with the latest version of Acrobat 6.0 that is due on store shelves by the end of May 2003, are re-branding and introducing a new version called ‘The Adobe Reader’. The name move from Acrobat Reader to Adobe Reader is to reduce confusion with the full-featured Acrobat software. Today, when you ask somebody if they have Acrobat, they will most likely reply yes. The truth is they most likely only have the Acrobat Reader and not the full version software for creating PDF files.

The nice part of PDF is that it is fully backwards compatible, which is important since PDF is a 10 year old technology. This is also important for museums and archives where data will eventually be hundreds of years old and must continue to be readable.

But what about forward compatibility? If you tried to open up a newer PDF document in an older version of Acrobat, what will happen? With new types of compression, it becomes harder and harder for older versions of software to maintain forward compatibility with future file formats. As long as PDF readers remain free, this should not become an issue.

For more information on the PDF file format, check out this PDF history.

So, what are the new features in Adobe Acrobat 6.0?
NOTE: These features are taken directly from the interview that was aired on GeekSpeak, Friday May 22 at 10-11am PST. A full version of the software was not yet available for a complete list of options.

With the introduction of Acrobat 6.0, Adobe is doing something different; they are breaking Acrobat into three different products. Acrobat Professional and two entry level versions called Elements for the Enterprise level and Standard for the consumer level. Elements is meant for very large deployments across enterprises. As for the Adobe Reader, it will be released in different sized versions with some features stripped out to make it more easily accessible to those with slower dial-up connections. To date, 1.3 Billion PDF forms have been downloaded in the last few years and over half a billion readers have been downloaded. This is big business stuff.

Also, a new version of the PDF file format is being introduced. PDF version 1.5 can handle dynamic embedded media directly from within the PDF file. In the past, embedded video was only included via an embedded link inside the file and was not actually included inside the file, meaning the file needed to be available and accessed remotely. With the new version, it is actually embedded within the file itself. Also, other embedded metadata such as HTML, XML, Shockwave, and Flash can be embedded as well.

Another new feature is the right-click creation of PDFs from anywhere within the system. It can also view Photoshop Album files, a new document type that Adobe has created for creating photographic albums.

A PDF icon has been placed in the IE browser for one-click conversions from within Microsoft Outlook and Internet Explorer. But what about Mac? Mac and OSX uses PDF technology as a basic part of its operating system. Apple has embraced it to the point it is integrated. Companies also license the technology from Adobe to create PDF files from within their applications – of course, since the specification is open, they are free to implement the file format themselves.

Adobe and Apple are also teaming to make browsers, or at least Apple’s new web browser, supportable for the inline browsing of PDF files. This makes it easier for web surfers as PDF files could be fully readable, and editable, directly from within the web browser. Unfortunately, Internet Explorer cannot currently do this on the Macintosh platform and it is not clear whether this feature will even be supported in the new version. Stay tuned.

Significant work has been done for optical character recognition (OCR). Adobe’s Paperless Capture feature allows you to capture and convert, they claim, from practically anything including clipboard images. Also, when documents are scanned, a new OCR engine within Acrobat turns the data of the document into selectable text that can be edited from within a word processing application. OCR is important for archiving because it allows text to be searchable and made easily available. Acrobat will even keep the formatting information and font information from the document. Yes, apparently, Adobe’s OCR engine is able to detect specific font types using some alchemical algorithmic magic.

So, what about the promise of a paperless office? How can documents be properly shared electronically to keep paper waste to a minimum? After all, paper costs run in the billions of dollars annually. A big waste of paper is during the approval process of documents when simple reviews are performed. While Adobe specifically claimed that we are not yet at the paperless office stage, they have tried to better address this situation with the new version.

The ability to review and annotate has been beefed up. A new feature called ‘Send by email for review’ takes addresses from address books, properly prepares files for reviewing purposes so that it can be opened easily and commented upon, allows the use of sticky notes and annotation tools, and then makes it simple for the file’s contents to be returned in a much smaller way so that the originator of the document does not have to deal with overly large email files.

But, how is all of this info sorted? What about that sticky note buried on page 105? Adobe has solved this with a panel that is displayed across the bottom of the document showing all the reviewers, the comments they made, and other pertinent info to make it easy to navigate through the reviewer information that was returned.

Stay tuned for a review of Adobe Acrobat 6.0 here on GeekSpeak.org once the software is released.