When Adobe Acrobat debuted 10 years ago, it seemed unlikely that Adobe would reach one of the company’s goals: creating paperless offices and PDF-only publishing workflows everywhere. Acrobat needed more and better-designed tools for group collaboration, as well as extensive graphics features, if professionals were to look twice. But after all those years, we have Acrobat 6.0 — in Standard and Professional versions (see “Acrobat 6.0 Professional” for a review of the pro version). Running only on OS X 10.2.2 and later, Acrobat 6.0 is a must-have upgrade if ever there was one.
Faster, Easier PDF Files
With either edition of Acrobat 6.0, PDF files are much easier to make than with previous versions. Unless you use Distiller to make PDF files from PostScript disk files, the program stays in the background. Acrobat adds what looks like a printer driver to your Print dialog box’s printers list.
You make a PDF file by “printing” the original. In Microsoft Office applications, Acrobat adds two toolbar buttons that let you convert a document to PDF and send it via e-mail. Acrobat can also create PDF files from screen captures.
You choose one of four default settings for Distiller to use when creating PDF files: Standard, High Quality, Press Quality, or Smallest File Size. These settings work very well, and you can edit them to create new ones.
Acrobat’s new Create PDF toolbar menu lets you combine multiple PDF files to form one large PDF file. Watch for a bug — if you select several files at once, Acrobat may scramble their order. You may need to alter their sequence manually.
Organization Is (Almost) Everything
Adobe has streamlined Acrobat’s interface. Select View: Task Buttons to show or hide toolbar buttons that represent the program’s many features. Some buttons have pull-down menus that reveal more features, and you’ll find improved, easy-to-use tools for adding digital signatures and other security features to PDF files. You can also rearrange the buttons in the toolbar.
Acrobat 6.0’s redesigned interface is more efficient, but its collaborative tools can actually revolutionize the way you work. Document reviewing and sharing is not only practical but also welcoming — for everyone from lawyers to marketing professionals.
Let’s say you have a PDF file that needs to be reviewed by many people. You select the Send By Email For Review command, which prepares your PDF for the collaboration process, launches your Mac’s default mail program, and attaches the PDF to a new e-mail that has an Acrobat-generated, editable message telling recipients how to use the file. Then you send this e-mail to the reviewers.
Reviewers must have Acrobat 6.0 Standard or Professional to read and annotate these files. (Adobe Reader can’t even open them; its modest annotation tools can be used only by plain-vanilla PDFs.) When the reviewers have finished commenting, they export their annotations, which Acrobat sends back to you.
You then import the reviewers’ comments into the original PDF file. You can list and sort the comments, and you can make additional notes on how you resolved them. Acrobat also facilitates further follow-up with a reviewer, via the program’s e-mail integration.
Office for Mac is not as thoroughly integrated into Mac OS as its Windows counterpart. Although Acrobat can export all the comments and suggested changes back into Microsoft Word format (where you can use Word’s Track Changes tools to edit the original manuscript), you must have a Windows PC, and the PDF file must have originated in Word 2002.
The new reviewing tools in Acrobat are truly brilliant, and they make the reviewing process a no-brainer for everyone involved. Your fellow collaborators may still get on your (and one another’s) nerves, but now you can hardly blame the tools.
Acrobat now has more commenting tools, and you can display them in floating toolbars. The multiple toolbars clutter an otherwise tidy and compact screen display. I’d like to see a single toolbar that could hold the tools of my choice.
Acrobat 6.0 also has new and improved online tools, such as Web Capture, which converts individual Web pages, ranges of pages, or whole Web sites to PDF. But when I tried it, Web Capture occasionally couldn’t find certain image files, leaving holes in the page. Adobe plans to address this problem in an upcoming release.
For transforming paper documents into editable, searchable PDF files, Acrobat 6.0 offers Paper Capture, a trimmed down version of the old Acrobat Capture program. Paper Capture can control your scanner directly (through a TWAIN driver), and you can use the included optical character recognition technology, among other options, to create an electronic file that’s true to the original.
Content searching in PDF files has vastly improved. Acrobat dives right into any PDF file, looking into annotations, bookmarks, and even metadata — a potentially powerful document-management tool.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
Acrobat 6.0 may finally make the paperless office and PDF workflow a reality. It’s the most comprehensive and wide-ranging upgrade I’ve seen in my 20 years of experience with publishing software. Adobe may market it as an office and enterprise product because of its excellent new collaboration tools — but Acrobat 6.0 Standard has more than enough high-end features that will let designers and in-house publishers send files confidently to service bureaus for high-quality output. If you’re even slightly inclined to upgrade, do it. You won’t be sorry.