Adobe Acrobat XI Review
10/5/2012 by: Bibor Sz. Kiraly
Adobe Acrobat XI - Eleven Shades of Red
Bureaucratic apparatus and Acrobat XI have two things in common, their appetite for paperwork and their fondness of color red. While Acrobat will never make red tape obsolete, it can add a nice bow to it and make the documents fly at speed of light. Vogons would approve.
From A Mist Straight Into the Cloud
For the average PDF-viewing user, Adobe Acrobat and its features and pricing, are probably difficult to understand. Graphic designers, on the other hand, understand it well. Adobe is blessed with at least two brands that are more recognizable than its own name: Photoshop and PDF. Unlike Photoshop, PDF has, for a very long time now, had a hard time tying itself exclusively to Adobe (and Acrobat), as dozens of PDF readers, editors, and converters are available on every operating system now. However, things were not always that way, they began with Acrobat. Now it appears the cycle has completed a full rotation as third party developers will find it quite difficult to match the raw power and flexibility of Acrobat XI.
Everything has changed, however, that does not mean that the old features are gone. Actually, concerning graphic design tools for pre-press, nothing substantial has been added for quite a few versions now. This is irrelevant though, as all these features can be found in newer versions of InDesign. The (interactive) viewing capabilities are also there, along with the ability to digitally sign documents. What Acrobat XI offers, instead of tweaks or upgrades to existing capabilities, is a plethora of completely new tools that range from content editing to comprehensive Cloud services. There is no doubt that Acrobat XI will become the bestselling version of Acrobat and finally take the title of the best PDF tool on the market.
Acrobat is not just "trying to catch the Cloud train"; it is creating its own carriage. acrobat.com has been in the Cloud for quite some time now, and EchoSign, a new Cloud service directly attached to Acrobat XI is one of the reasons why XI will be so attractive to large corporations and individual users alike.
For many of us who live in countries where digitally signed documents have legal weight, EchoSign will become the most useful feature of Acrobat XI. What EchoSign offers, putting it in a terribly simplified way, is a digital document management, distribution, and signing system. PDF documents can be read, signed, and pushed forward on most platforms, including mobile ones that run on Android and iOS. Necessary paperwork can be viewed, reviewed, edited, and signed anywhere, at any time. Although the first feature phones like those big, old, folding Nokias boasted that users could "carry your office with you", EchoSign is the first commercially available, and easy to use, system that really enables this.
Perhaps, for now, EchoSign will mostly be useful to larger companies, but digital signatures for individuals have been available for some time now, and once the governments "catch up" and make these signatures truly viable for non-commercial purposes, so will the importance and widespread use of EchoSign grow.
FormsCentral is another new addition to Acrobat. Utilizing the power of Cloud and HTML5, its aim is to replace other forms of... Forms and provide a complete solution for form creation, distribution, and feedback handling. What is most interesting about it is that it works beyond PDF, as the target audience can fill out forms not just in PDF but also in web browsers. FormsCentral is able to sort and collect data from both sources indiscriminately. Not surprisingly, the actual form editor of FormsCentral looks, feels, and drags its heels like a web CMS (which it probably is). Even so, it still works great, and form creation and design is easy, intuitive, and the final result is not the aesthetic equivalent of the Titanic.
FORMSCENTRAL: It makes it really easy to distribute forms and collect data.
FORMSCENTRAL: Lots of templates to choose from, intuitive editing, clean interface.
Ultimately, large organizations and legal entities will determine how effective and popular EchoSign and FormsCentral will be. As for the rest of us, we will have to "make do" with the other awesome features of Acrobat XI.
The “Combine Files” Tool
Previous Acrobat and Acrobat Pro versions allowed multiple PDF files to be combined into one PDF file or a PDF Portfolio, on both OSX and Windows. The upgrades Adobe made to the “Combine files” feature in Acrobat XI are mind blowing.
Users can now add almost any sort of an office-environment document to a PDF or a PDF Portfolio. Spreadsheets, text documents, presentations, and audio and video files can now be "dragged" into the “Combine files” pane.
Files with multiple pages, sheets, or keyframes can be “opened up”, users can select these segments and add them to the PDF individually without the having to edit the source file. For example, one can add two Excel documents; both containing multiple sheets, and select which sheets should make it into the export document and on what page. Sadly, specific layers from files like PSD Photoshop Document cannot be manipulated in this way. Documents can be added from alternative sources like the clipboard, scanner, Office 365, or SharePoint cloud services. Whole folders can be added if one wishes so, and only Acrobat-compatible files from them will be added.
COMBINE FILES: The HTML import needs working on.
There are still two ways to combine files in Acrobat, one being a “single PDF” and the other a “PDF Portfolio”. If Single PDF is selected, Acrobat will combine all the files into a single PDF document with multiple pages, each page representing one page, sheet, video, etc. A “PDF Portfolio” will also create a single PDF document and will still convert all added files to PDF, but acts as a container and keeps individually-added files separate within it. It has a built-in user interface that can be either chosen from templates or created using Adobe ActionScript and files within it can be browsed, tagged, previewed, and downloaded individually.
Sadly, in the Pre-release version of Acrobat XI, the “Combine files” tool is terribly unstable and we were unable to thoroughly test it. Various issues and bugs plague both OSX and Windows versions making it unusable. Sill, as this is one of the core features of Acrobat XI, we are sure “Combine files” will be fixed before release.
COMBINE FILES: Import audio pop-out box. A similar window, but with more details, appears when importing video.
Many applications like Microsoft Word can already "save into PDF". Those that do not can use the PDF virtual printer that has been available for an embarrassing number of years. Yet, the ability to add various file formats directly into Acrobat saves time, completely eliminating one step in a sometimes tedious process. What we would like to see is better support for Adobe's own products, for example, the ability to handle multiple page Adobe Illustrator documents.
The “Edit PDF” Tool
Dear managers, if we would be forced to name only two reasons as to why your assistants want your job so badly, one would be money, and the other editing PDF documents.
Well, fear not, as Acrobat XI takes away that "other" reason. There is a big, friendly, Edit PDF button now. Thankfully, it does what it says.
Any document that contains text and images can be opened up in Acrobat XI, and both texts and images within it can be edited, replaced, moved, or deleted. That’s right, no more “release clipping mask” action in Adobe Illustrator.
Text boxes are recognized, as are the font settings within them. Adding or removing parts of the text will reflow paragraphs, although Adobe will have to work on this one. Sometimes the editor does not recognize that some texts are a part of the same text box, but this will only happen in rare circumstances. The Edit tool does not support “type on path” text flows and will tag each letter within them as a separate entity.
EDIT PDF: Successfully deleted a shadow below a cut-out image. Neat!
Image handling is extremely robust. Transparencies and clipping masks are detected and preserved. Shadows or other effects added in InDesign are detected and are properly separated from the rest of the image. Images in the background are not broken, distorted, or cut-out by overlapping texts or images. Adding or replacing images is as easy as moving them, and all features that images might have, except PSD layers, are preserved once embedded into the PDF.
The "Edit text and images" tool is a brilliant feature, it is apparent that a lot of effort was put into it. For example, all images and texts have nice boxes around them that can be used, along with brand new guides, for realigning content. Images, texts, and containers can be copy-pasted from one page to another, et cetera. However, numerous bugs ruin the experience and we are sure fixing these will be the number one priority for the Acrobat development team in near future.
EDIT PDF: Object handles and guides allow for precise placement.
Exporting Into Non-PDF Formats
Adobe really outdid itself with this one. Not only are existing PDFs now editable in Acrobat XI, but they can also be exported into various formats like PowerPoint, Excel, Word, and web page, just to name a few. Also, these exported documents are editable in their native applications. Now, the conversion is not always 100% perfect, and we suspect that the origin of the file plays a role. For example, a PowerPoint presentation converted to a PDF that in turn gets converted back into PowerPoint had a greater chance of being close to 100% of the original. Along these lines, documents that were created in Illustrator, InDesign or even Word have a greater chance of being misinterpreted in an Acrobat-generated PowerPoint document. While testing this feature, we even took an InDesign PDF, turned it into a PowerPoint file and opened the .pptx in Apple's Keynote. Results can be seen on the screenshot; apart from images being broken by the InDesign “drop shadow”, everything else is in place, and is editable. As expected, the “export to HTML” works great for clean text documents like contracts, and works terribly for everything else.
PDF files can now be exported into a wide range of file formats, all editable.
The power of the export tool: An InDesign document PDF, exported from Acrobat XI to PowerPoint, loaded in Keynote. Drop shadows messed up the layout, but everything else is there and is editable.
“For I Have Tasted the Fruit”
Adobe gave us a nice diagram of how much time and money can be saved by using Acrobat XI for handling paperwork in a large company. We cannot test that or claim whether those figures are true or false. We did test Acrobat XI, however, on a much smaller scale, on a scale that will be important for individuals; professionals that populate small and large companies alike. We took a 20-page PDF filled with text and images and edited it “the old way”, using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, translating all texts into another language and replacing all images. Then we took the same PDF document and edited it from within Acrobat XI. It took us almost exactly 8 hours doing it “the old way” compared to roughly 2.5 hours in Acrobat XI. We will never look back.
Here’s Adobe’s calculation on how much companies can save by addressing the productivity gap. It’s not as beneficial as closing a mineshaft gap, but still pretty good.
Adobe, Acrobat, XI, pdf, cloud, photoshop, echosign, formscentral, portfolio
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