Acrobat 9: review

originally published in The Lawyers Weekly

The definition of futility: penning a review for Adobe Acrobat in a legal publication. Acrobat has pervaded the legal profession to the point that whether to acquire it is no longer at issue.

But it isn’t futile to ask whether to upgrade when Adobe releases a new version. The quick answer? Yes, if the improvements over the previous version make business sense.

What enhancements and new features might lawyers covet in the recently released Acrobat 9? Here’s a quick (and incomplete) list, in no particular order: portfolios, improved redaction, easier form creation, document comparison and online collaboration tools.

If you use Packages in Acrobat 8, check out Portfolios in version 9. (Quick overview: Adobe reps portray a world without portfolios as an email weighted down by umpteen attachments of various file types. The “after” image shows the same email with the portfolio as the sole attachment.)

As well as single files, portfolios also accept folders containing multiple files in a drag, drop and rearrange window. Authors can also apply a standard look across all documents in a portfolio using templates, and readers can search for given text within the portfolio. (Those who use CoverFlow in Apple’s iTunes or Mac OSX Leopard will feel at home in no time.)

Note: make sure that the recipient of your portfolio has the software required to open each type of file inside. This should not be a problem with common document types, but esoteric files like RAW from professional cameras are best converted to PDF prior to inclusion in a portfolio.

Acrobat 9 lets authors use a global search-and-replace tool to redact any “pattern” of characters within documents, folders or portfolios.
Bates Numbering, another drag-and-drop operation, can be done on an ad hoc set of documents or across the contents of a portfolio.

People used to comparing documents in Word will quickly catch on to the same feature in Acrobat. And to prevent unauthorized viewing or changes to said documents, Adobe beefed up the 256-bit AES encryption that authors can apply to each individual document.

Acrobat’s form creation tools range from the simplistic to the technical, but the one likely to attract attention seems positively automated. From an OCR scan, Acrobat spots possible candidates for fields and field labels and generates a form based on those. Authors can then adjust the results if need be.

The author can post said form on Acrobat.com (more on that later) or another online service (like SharePoint) and email invitations to people who need to fill it out. Answers are compiled on the server end, much like modern web survey tools, which reduces the burden of return emails and processing of same authors commonly face.

Developments in this version of Acrobat show Adobe’s desire to play in the Software as a Service game (against the likes of Google Docs, for instance), and multimedia. All of these developments mean the free Adobe Reader has become a “safe cross-platform environment” for much more than staid old static text.

Embracing Web-based tools, perhaps in reaction to the popularity of Google Docs, Adobe has unleashed Acrobat.com. The top three attention-getters here, again in no particular order: Buzzword is a Flash-based word processor that permits several people to work on the same document at the same time; Sharing gives each author five GB of space on Adobe’s servers to store documents; and ConnectNow provides a virtual meeting room where authors collaborate via text, audio and video.

Acrobat’s user base extends well beyond law, and certain advanced features prove useful for law as well. For instance, the incorporation of Flash and Shockwave in the Acrobat suite make a variety of advanced functions, like the inclusion of 3D renderings, feasible. Those same tools also permit multimedia presentations, such as audio or video depositions, within PDFs and portfolios as well.

Adobe released three flavours of Acrobat 9. The middle-of-the-line Pro contains most of the features mentioned in this article. The top-of-the-line Pro Extended provides the multimedia gizmos while the entry-level Standard omits enhanced form creation tools, templates for PDF portfolios and the ability to enable Adobe Reader users to review and comment on PDFs you create.

And, of course, people who read your PDFs need the free Adobe Reader. (If you send portfolios or make use of other new features, advise recipients to upgrade to Reader version 9.)

The Acrobat legal toolkit, indispensible in law for years, has grown again. If any of the additions to Acrobat would improve your office’s efficiency, version 9 may prove worth the upgrade fee.

To read the article as a PDF, click here.

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