Acrobat CS 2, by Adobe
Posted: 21-Feb-2006

2 1/2 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Adobe Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Diane Love Class: PRODUCTIVITY

Overview
Adobe Acrobat 7.0 Professional allows you to convert files to portable document format (PDF). This format's primary advantages are platform independence and preserving the appearance of your document. For example, if you distribute a Word document, you may find that its appearance changes due to the fonts that are present or absent on the recipients' individual computers. This can affect the appearance and feel of the document or the pagination resulting in unwanted page breaks. With PDF, you can be confident that what you publish will look the way you want it to.

Compared to its glamorous sisters, Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and GoLive, you may find Acrobat relatively dowdy - instead of creating magical, colorful or flashy documents, it merely converts files generated elsewhere to PDF. But wait a minute - try to imagine your life without PDF! We'd have multiple competing standards for documents each of which could require a separate reading program, and even if they were all free like Acrobat Reader it would still be a very tiresome situation. On the other hand, Mac OS X can print directly to PDF just as easily as to a printer, so why should anyone pay money for Acrobat Professional? Let's see...


System Requirements

  • 500 MHz PowerPC G4 processor
  • Mac OS X 10.2.6 and later
  • 512 MB RAM (1 GB recommended)
  • 500 MB available disk space


Testing Systems

  • iMac 17" 800Mhz G4
  • iMac 17" 1 Ghz G4


Installation
Installation places Adobe Acrobat 7.0 Professional, Acrobat Distiller 7.0 and Acrobat Uninstaller in a folder in your applications folder; for some reason, you don't get an up-to-date version of Adobe Reader. In addition, you get a new printer driver and a new toolbar is added to Microsoft Office applications. (Acrobat Distiller, not covered in this review, is a companion application for converting postscript files to PDF.)

Printer driver
The change to your Print dialog adds the Adobe PDF 7.0 option to your list of printer drivers:


Adobe PDF 7.0 print drive

The printer driver's Adobe PDF Settings dropdown lists contain the following options:


Adobe PDF - Print Dialog Options


PDF/A is an ISO standard for archiving PDF files while PDF/X is a standard for exchanging PDFs - in both cases the PDF must pass a compliance check which generates a text log that you can read after you create a PDF to that standard. You would use one of these settings if compliance with these standards was required in your work environment. Otherwise your choice of option will depend on your requirements for accuracy and file size. This is explored in detail later in the review.

Integration with Microsoft Office
Here is the new Office toolbar - the left button creates a PDF from the document you have open, the right button does the same and places it as an attachment in a new email:


PDF Office Toolbar


Creating a PDF from a Word file
I created a small document containing 3 levels of structured headings in Microsoft Word and capriciously added a 2.4 MB image of my dog without any consideration of the needs of the eventual audience for print quality versus download speed.

Here is how the resulting 2.6 MB document looks in Microsoft Word - note the document map on the left which shows you the three levels of headings.


Document in Microsoft Word

I created a PDF from this Word file using the built-in Mac OS X capability and each of the Adobe options. I named each resulting PDF file according to the creation method and sorted them by size, largest first. Here is a snapshot of the Finder window showing all the files including the Word original:


Various PDF output test

All methods produced a file that looked correct and was readable online. However, as you can see, the built in Mac OS X PDF saving did a poor job with regards to file size - the PDF was 4 times the size of the Word original. The higher quality Acrobat settings produced a file approximately the same size as the original, but the standard and smallest file size options produced relatively tiny files that still looked good on screen. The difference between 11.1 MB and 96 KB is huge when you consider download times and storage.

Bookmarks
And now for the crushing disappointment of the whole exercise. Bookmarks, just like the Word document map illustrated above, allow you to navigate a long document and read it online without printing it. I knew that the Mac OS X PDF print would not create hierarchical bookmarks from the Word heading styles. I was dumbfounded to discover that Acrobat 7.0 "Professional" for Mac OS X will not do this either.

The Windows version includes the Adobe PDFmaker application which offers a window allowing you to define which Word styles become bookmarks: this function is entirely absent in the Mac OS version.

Worse still, the help for Acrobat appears to be written for both Mac and Windows versions and rather than coming out clean and saying the Mac version doesn't do automatic bookmarking, the help evades the issue in a manner that leaves discovery of the awful truth in the hands of the hapless user.

As if that wasn't bad enough, what about the usability principle of removing rather than graying out a control if there is no action the user can take to enable the control? There is a bookmarks tab option menu in the Windows version called "New Bookmarks from Structure". In Windows, the option is enabled and creates bookmarks from your document's structured headings. In the Mac version, this menu entry is permanently disabled. The only thing I could do to enable it would be to buy a PC, Windows and Acrobat 7.0 Professional for Windows.


Acrobat "New Bookmarks from Structure" - permanently disabled

If your profession involves creation of long, highly structured text documents, Adobe Acrobat for Windows does allow a professional user to make a professional PDF, whereas the Mac version does not. With the Mac version of Acrobat, you can create bookmarks manually. Here's how: you pick through the PDF document line by line, selecting each heading and turning it into a bookmark using the Add Bookmark option from the context menu or the cmd-B shortcut. That gives you a top - level bookmark for each heading. Next you need to drag each bookmark to nest it into its proper level in the hierarchy. This took a couple of minutes for my 5 page document - imagine how tiresome it would be to do it for a 100 page document, and redo it every time the original was changed.

Creating a PDF from multiple files
With the Acrobat option to create a PDF from multiple files, you can select a bunch of files and hey presto, now you have one PDF with each file bookmarked. If the files are photos, you can set slideshow options and play the slideshow in Acrobat. As well as photos, this option can take in PDFs, HTML files, text files and more but not unconverted Word files. If the PDF files are bookmarked then the bookmarks appear under their parent document.

This is particularly useful for situations where multiple files form a larger document and you want to be able to search the whole document.

Although there are tools to add text, drawn objects and form fields to the page, you always need a starting point, which can be a file, a web page, something imported from your scanner or the contents of your clipboard - but it can't be nothing. There is no "File New" in Acrobat.

Commenting and Reviewing
The premise of Acrobat's Commenting and Reviewing features are that you would generate your original document, let's say in Word, convert it to a PDF using Acrobat and then send it out to your team for review using Acrobat or, if you choose, Adobe Reader.

For a Word original, I am already at odds with the whole concept. It's good to be able to prevent a document from being changed when it's out for review. But eventually, you want to be able to accept or reject the revisions to the original. I don't see the point of being able to comment on the PDF, since it would take extra work to get the comments into the original Word document. (Acrobat for Windows can do that extra work - the Mac version apparently can't.)

Of course, if your PDF document isn't generated from Word but from an application that has no commenting features, or perhaps from a group of files from different applications, then the capability to work collaboratively to review and finish the PDF is tremendously useful. Acrobat allows an author to circulate a document for review using email or a browser, allows the reviewers to highlight, underline and cross out text in a PDF as well add comments, stamp the document just like you would with a rubber stamp on paper, and finally allows the author to view and work with all the comments. Here is the window showing some of the commenting capabilities (as well as hand-created bookmarks):


Acrobat PDF version of Word document


It's worth noting that the "diane" marking the author of the comments in the tab at the bottom of the above screenshot comes from my Mac OS X short user name and can't be changed in Acrobat. The "Diane J Love" in the "Reviewed" stamp above the comments tab is populated from my OS X long user name but can be changed in Acrobat.

Layers
While Mac Acrobat offers the capability to navigate the layers in a layered PDF, I have been unable to find any way of creating a layered PDF using Acrobat on the Mac. Layered PDFs can be created by Windows users from Windows Autocad or Visio files. I was unable to create a layered PDF from a layered Photoshop file; my attempts to create layered PDFs from layered InDesign and Illustrator files also failed, even when I tried to export from Illustrator to Autocad and turn the resulting file into a PDF.

Forms
Support for forms is another area where Acrobat for Mac OS X provides the basics but seems to lag behind the Windows version. The help on this topic is frustratingly bad; at every turn, it extols the virtues of the Windows version's added application, Adobe Designer; it totally fails to explain how forms in a PDF work; it doesn't even discuss the forms tools that are available in plain old Acrobat-without-Adobe-Designer. The user interface also has some deficiencies - the menu options for actually adding form fields won't be found under the Forms Tasks toolbar button, nor under the Advanced -> Forms cascade menu. Instead you have to know to look under Tools -> Advanced Editing.

The essential fact that you have to grasp about form fields in Mac OS X Acrobat is, they really have nothing to do with the underlying document. It's like they're on a clear plexiglass layer on top of the document. Trying to set up form fields in the original document (e.g. Word) is a waste of time - all you need is the field labels.

You will be able to create form fields, define validation, perform arithmetical calculations between form fields or process the results with Javascript, and export the results to a spreadsheet.

Accessibility
For some time, the PDF medium has lagged behind the web in offering accessibility to people with disabilities. In order to be accessible via assistive technology such as the screen readers used by blind people, the information in a document must be available as text.

This is a more subtle problem than just supplying alternate text for each picture or graphic. Semantic information, such as "this document consists of a main section called "Sporting" with subsections called "Spaniels", "Retrievers", "Setters" and "Pointers"..." is conveyed visually by text size and presentation; to make it available via a screen reader, this semantic information must be tagged, in a very similar way to the heading styles in a Word document. Also, text must be tagged to state what language it is in - otherwise how will the screen reader know how to pronounce it?

The big surprise here is that Acrobat had no difficulty tagging all the headings in my test Word file; it didn't need me to manually apply bookmarks first. It reported that I hadn't supplied an alternate text for the picture or stated the language. I was able to supply the alternate text for the figure and the only difficulty I had defining the language was the absence of "dog latin" in the list of available alternatives. Acrobat can also speak a document aloud to check how a screen reader might render it.

Partially sighted people may use a high screen magnification, and consequently have difficulty following a complex newspaper style layout. Acrobat allows the PDF author to define the articles on the page in a manner that makes them accessible as a list to the reader.

All in all then, Acrobat provides a set of tools that you will find useful if you are a conscientious provider of accessible PDF documents.

Security
Owning Acrobat breaks the paradigm of a PDF file being an immutable plexiglass-clad look-but-don't-touch copy of a document. Once Acrobat is installed on your machine, the hitherto harmless act of double clicking a PDF for read-only access now fires up Acrobat and gives you the capability break into that PDF and do things to it, whether accidentally or deliberately. The same goes for other Acrobat users who obtain your document.

Acrobat provides features to control what other people can do with your document both in Acrobat and in Adobe Reader; for example you can:

  • define a password to be entered in order to open the document;
  • define a permissions password to restrict printing, editing and changing the document's security settings;
  • create a digital ID or use a digital ID created elsewhere to certify approval of a document's content;
  • define security policies to store frequently used security settings and apply them to documents.

Summary
Adobe Acrobat 7 Professional for Mac OS X is capable of producing PDFs with a variety of optimizations for smallest file size, high print quality or standards compatibility; it has valuable features for making PDFs accessible, making one PDF from multiple files, creating forms, collaborative commenting, annotation and reviewing and security. Frustratingly, it lacks important features compared to its Windows equivalent, but costs the same, $449 as a standalone package. The most unbelievable deficiency for the review team, who are familiar with the Windows version, is its inability to generate bookmarks from headings in Microsoft Word files; this is an essential task in producing a usable PDF of a large technical document. It's also disappointing that the help describes features only available in the Windows version and that menu items for functions that are absent in the Mac OS X version are present but permanently disabled. It's difficult to recommend Acrobat 7 Pro as a stand alone product at it's retail price and it's current lack of features. As apart of the CS2 bundle, however, it is a nice tool to have, and the only tool, really, for creating efficient PDFs on the Mac.

Pros

  • capable of producing tiny PDFs from large documents
  • features for creating and checking accessible PDFs
  • create one PDF from multiple source files, adding headers and footers
  • create interactive forms
  • comments, reviewing and graphic annotations
  • security

Cons

  • can't generate bookmarks from heading styles in Microsoft Word documents
  • help describes features that are only available in the Windows version
  • can't create layered PDFs from Mac OS X available file formats
  • menu items for functions which are absent in Mac OS X version are present and permanently disabled


Overall Rating:

2 1/2 out of 5 Mice