Acrobat.com app suite still undercooked

The following article is reprinted from the BizFeed blog at PCWorld.com.

Adobe’s Acrobat.com suite of collaborative applications is just out of beta and features word processing, web-conferencing, PDF creation, and file storage apps. A quick test-drive shows promise, but reveals a lack a cohesiveness and key applications still in beta.

Acrobat.com consists of five applications: Buzzword, Connect-Now, Create PDF, Share, and My Files, which are word processing, Web conferencing, PDF conversion, file sharing and file storage applications, respectively. Spreadsheet and presentation applications are also available, but not yet officially released.

The service offers three subscription levels: Free, Premium Basic (Oxymoron alert), and Premium Plus. The differences lie in the number of Connect-Now participants and the number of PDF documents that can be converted. Premium Basic runs $14.99 a month or $149 yearly versus $39 and $390 for Premium Plus

Buzzword is a slick, flash-based word processor. It is fairly intuitive and full featured, allowing easy manipulation of text, images, and tables. In other words, it is like every other word processor, which is not a bad thing. You can optionally export files to your local computer in a variety of formats including Word, HTML, RTF, and PDF. Sharing files with other users is a simple affair. Simply click on the share button, type in one or more e-mail addresses and specify each person as a co-author, reviewer or reader. You can also click on the “share with a wider audience” box and give access to anonymous users.

As a stand-alone application, I like Buzzword. However as a member of a suite of applications, I found a couple things frustrating. First, there is no obvious way to go from Buzzword back to the main Acrobat.com menu. Secondly, one would expect a saved document to be available in the file storage application. However a file created in Buzzword seems to live only in Buzzword.

Connect-now is the star of this suite, and the only application which currently makes it worth paying for. It is an easy to use web-conferencing application. It allows users to share an entire desktop, an application or a single window. When sharing my desktop with a multi-monitor configuration, it was intelligent enough to ask which monitor to use. With Connect-Now, users can show their shiny faces using the web-cams and microphones built into most laptops sold today. It incorporates an effective whiteboard application and allows chat with all attendees or privately with just one. Other features include file sharing and group-meeting notes. Connect-Now functions seamlessly and cohesively on both Windows and OS X. Meeting attendees, except for the host, are not required to be registered users of Acrobat.com nor give any personal information aside from a name.

The free version allows 3 meeting participants while the paid versions allow either 5 or 20 attendees.

The last three icons (Create PDF, Share, and My Files) all take you to the same application, which contains four sections labeled: Upload, Share, Create PDF and My Files. Here, you can easily organize files, share them, or convert them to PDF. Again there is no obvious access to files created in Buzzword or files uploaded in a Connect-now session. On the top left part of the page is an Acrobat.com icon. With any normal Web page, clicking on this icon would take you to the home page. Not here. This is an oversight I find maddening. Aside from these gripes, these apps worked exactly as promised. Since Acrobat.com targets business users, the allocated 5GB is adequate.

At the bottom of the Acrobat.com site, there is a link for Acrobat.com Labs. Here you will find betas for Presentations and Tables, which are presentation and spreadsheet applications. At a glance, both these applications seemed like worthy competitors to the equivalent GoogleDocs apps. When released, these will be part of the Acrobat.com suite. Both of these apps include a nifty feature; multiple people can modify a document simultaneously and changes show up immediately on each user’s display. I expect that this feature to eventually make it to Buzzword.

The free Acrobat.com subscription allows you to convert five files to PDF, ever. Depending on which paid subscription you have, you can either convert 10 a month or an unlimited number. Apart from perhaps sheer narcissism, I’m not sure why Adobe puts such a premium on PDF conversion. Given that the annual costs of this suite are non-negligible and that many free applications can create PDF for no charge (OpenOffice, GoogleDocs, and PrimoPDF come to find), limiting the number of documents paying users can convert is somewhat absurd. Full-featured PDF creation apps like Nitro PDF Professional are available for as little as $99.

Although the cloud computing promise is platform independence, Linux users are left out in the cold. Using Acrobat.com requires a Mac or a PC running Firefox, Internet Explorer, or Safari (Mac only).

Another thing I found quirky about my Acrobat.com experience is that although there are two paid subscription models, all upgrade links seemed to lead me to a page where purchasing Premium Plus was the only option.

At glance, this suite of applications looks very promising. Adobe just needs to put it back in the oven a bit longer before charging customers for it.

[Michael Scalisi is an IT manager based in Alameda, California.]

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