Review: Adobe Acrobat 8 Professional
I'll state this upfront: I find many of the changes in Adobe Acrobat 8 Professional inexplicable. Although the entire package is fairly pricey ($499; upgrade $159) and was traditionally aimed at high-level users and print production folks, this version's "improvements' are aimed at, um, well, I couldn't really identify a target audience. Some of the changes may confuse and frustrate long-time print-production professionals while adding features that most businesses may not need. The corporate audience might like the new collaboration features (as long as they're willing to pay for them), but unless they're on Macs, those same businesses also need to upgrade participating machines to Windows XP SP2 before they can collaborate. This chore might not be practical, and it certainly won't be welcomed by anyone's IT department.
However, that doesn't mean it's all bad news.
An Elegant New Face
Version 8 greets you with a handsome interface makeover sporting colorful icons on the desktop (Figure 1), a nice change from version 7's utilitarian tabs. Right-clicking on the icons brings up a variety of panels, such as Comments, Fields, Help, and Model Tree. Acrobat then places an icon for the selection on your desktop so you can quickly access the panel the next time you need it.
While it's a stylish arrangement, it does steal desk space -- the slice that holds the icons can no longer be used to display documents. People who work on a laptops may regret the change, as they need all the display space they can get.
You'll find colorful icons in many places in version 8; for example, in the Properties dialog box for Notes, as shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2. Nice-looking icons in the Notes Properties dialog box.
The coolest new feature is Adobe Connect, a collaboration/meeting system similar to WebEx and Microsoft NetMeeting. It will be available in January 2007 for a subscription price of $39 per month, or $395 per year. That will buy you a personal meeting room that can be used by anyone, anywhere. Acrobat is already a collaboration tool; Connect extends this concept to real-time (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Acrobat Connect shows the desktop of the meeting controller. Private and public notes can be passed using the little palette shown at the lower left of the display. For a larger version of this screenshot, click on the image.
The service is similar to WebEx, allowing up to 15 people to share one computer screen at a time. Anyone in the meeting can have control. The upscale ConnectPro service supports video and VoIP, but if you use Connect, you'll need a telephone conference call to hear each other. Unlike WebEx, which requires participants to download and install a special program, Connect needs only a Flash-enabled browser.
And, like NetMeeting, Connect can take control of remote computers -- nice for troubleshooting and tech support. Of course, NetMeeting is free, and you have to pay for Connect.
And Even More Together
One new version 8 feature I especially appreciate is the ability to combine (as opposed to merge) supported file formats into a PDF package (Figure 4). You can stitch together a group of documents into a single file and send it around, but each file can be saved independently -- nice for portability (Figure 5). During the packaging process, you can opt to remove headers, footers, and watermarks from the original files and add single unifying identifiers to each page.
Figure 4. The new Combine Files feature is my favorite improvement to version 8.
Figure 5. I combined four files of different formats (xls, doc, pdf, and gif) into a single file. On the left, you can see the individual file names inside the package -- very useful for sharing multiple documents. For a larger version of this screenshot, click on the image.
Comments added to shared document reviews can be automatically stored on a file server, Web server, WebDAV server, network folder, or SharePoint workspace. However, only users of Acrobat 8 or the free Adobe 8 Reader can participate. Comments can even be added offline; they're uploaded as soon as the user is hooked back into the Web or network.
Safe and Secure
Acrobat 8 includes a few new security features. The new Redaction tool lets you remove sensitive information, such as all instances of a word, or an image, or metadata (Figure 6). Users of Adobe Reader can add digital signatures to documents as long as the document author used Adobe Acrobat Pro to enable the capability. And for your privacy enjoyment, Version 8 supports 128-bit encryption.
Figure 6. The new Redaction features are useful for removing sensitive information.
A Little Something for Production
One very nice touch is that version 8 fixes some of the problems it encounters during preflight. Most important for my work is the ability to generate a true grayscale document. Earlier Acrobat Pro versions were helpless to squish 4-color pages to a single plate, but version 8 takes care of this problem. Also, there's now an option for booklet printing in the Page Scaling list.
Warning: the "Do not send fonts to Distiller" setting is now called "Rely on system fonts only, do not use document fonts" checkbox. Like previous versions of Acrobat, you have to be careful to uncheck this box to ensure that all fonts are correctly embedded before sending the PDF for review or printing. You can see the renamed checkbox in the figure below (Figure 7).
Figure 7. Acrobat 8 Professional finds preflight problems, then fixes them.
And now, for a tour of Acrobat 8's dark side.
Bye-bye Automatic Spreads
The removal of the default Facing Pages view falls into the Ghastly Improvement category. In earlier versions, when you switched to a Facing Pages view setting, you saw the pages correctly laid out; that is, the first page is shown on the right with the pages facing each other in correct sequence (Figure 8). In the new version, the opening page defaults to being shown on the left and the subsequent pages face the wrong recto and verso. For us print-oriented folks, this new view (called Two-Up instead of Facing) is worthless -- we can't check spreads or page balance.
When I spoke to Adobe staff about this change, they first suggested that I add an extra page to push my recto opener into the correct position on the screen. Now, that would go over really big with my publisher! Then I received an email message from them that said that Facing Pages still exists, but you have to select Show Cover Page During Two-Up from the View/Page Display menu.
Too bad that I have to select this option for every single document. It cannot be the default. And why obscure a feature that print production people use all day long? Bah.
Even More Aggravation
Small annoyances abound in version 8. In my testing, the text selection tool was problematic -- in some documents, its lag time makes it impossible to precisely select a block of text. On my test machines, wheel scrolling behavior was just plain weird. Sometimes I could scroll through the document without problems, but when I scrolled back to the first page, the wheel zoomed instead of just idly clicking over. Other times, the wheel scrolled the pages 3 at a time, forcing me to use the PageUp and PageDown key to move around the file.
And take a look at the Crop Pages dialog box (Figure 10). I requested that Acrobat remove white margins from an image. The black outline shown below is what Acrobat displayed to indicate what was going to happen when I clicked the OK button. Or something. In fact, the crop was correct, but the thumbnail in the dialog box was totally off the wall. I need an accurate thumbnail for cropping images.
Also, even on my spiffy new Duo Core Windows laptop with 2GB of memory, when Acrobat was open, my cursor was sluggish in other applications.
More Upgrade Dollars Required; One Bright Spot
One further unpleasant surprise is that Acrobat 8 for Windows runs only on Windows XP systems with Service Pack 2 installed (and some versions of Windows 2000). This limitation may prevent many corporate users from upgrading on their current machines, as SP2 can be difficult to install, especially if a system is using older peripheral drivers.
However, the one bit of positive OS news is that Acrobat 8 runs natively as a Universal application on Intel-based Macs and on the older PowerPC Macs.
The Bottom Line
As a creative professional, I was frustrated with version 8. The few additions for print production folks are more than offset (at least for me) by the assorted goofy behaviors. Unless you must have the new collaboration features and CMYK plate compression to grayscale, think twice before upgrading.