We put Adobe's flagship do-it-all PDF suite to the test to find out whether you should upgrade
Adobe’s top-of-the-range Acrobat X Pro builds on Acrobat X Standard, which itself builds on Reader X. As such, it inherits all the advances of the whole range, such as the enhanced interface, Reading mode, SendNow integration and SharePoint support.
Again like Standard, Acrobat X Pro’s existing power is now mostly accessed through the new Tools task pane. This makes it easier to find functions, but it also highlights just how much power Pro offers, with options covering everything from XML-based forms creation through to colour-separated commercial print.
Packing in as much PDF-based power as possible is Acrobat Pro’s mission, but the sheer range and depth is intimidating. Worse, each advanced workflow is complex, meaning it can be a real challenge to get everything right every time – if you don’t, it can be a real disaster. With Acrobat X Pro, Adobe tries to help users get on top of their workflows with the introduction of actions.
Seven preset actions cover such common tasks as archiving paper documents and preparing for web distribution. Click on the Publish Sensitive Document wizard, for example, and it walks you through marking up the document for redaction (a Pro-only feature), removing hidden information and general file optimisation. It’s also simple to edit existing actions – say to add a step for password-based encryption – and to create your own from scratch.
Acrobat X Pro isn’t just intended to let you do more with your PDFs; its main function is to enable others to get more out of the PDFs you produce. Key to this, and perhaps the program’s greatest strength, is its ability to unlock power in the free Reader X to enable anyone to fill in forms and digitally sign documents. The biggest advance is in unlocking all commenting capabilities in Reader X’s Comments pane, so anyone can participate in a shared review.
As well as making the Reader program richer, Acrobat X Pro users can add content such as maps and 3D to their PDFs. It’s worth noting here that, while Acrobat X Pro still lets you import 3D models in U3D format, the former Acrobat 9 Pro Extended has been discontinued. Its advanced 3D capabilities are to be handled as a third-party add-on.
More useful is Acrobat X Pro’s ability to add audio, video and interactive content to bring your static paper-based publications to life. If this is a major part of your workflow, you may be interested in upgrading to Adobe’s new Acrobat Suite (£953 exc VAT; upgrade £635 exc VAT). Alongside Acrobat X Pro and the ubiquitous Photoshop, this includes the latest versions of Captivate, Presenter and Media Encoder for creating Flash-based content to incorporate into your PDFs, though strangely Flash Professional itself is not included.
When it comes to presentation of PDFs, Adobe is well aware that just emailing a bunch of disparate PDFs, perhaps with a couple of original files and web links, doesn’t exactly create a great first impression. Simply merging them into a single PDF is hardly better. This is where Adobe’s concept of the PDF Portfolio comes in, acting as a professional, interactive front-end from which end users can load each of the separate components.
When you create a portfolio, an onscreen wizard appears in which you can choose from five layouts – Click-Through, Freeform, Grid, Linear and Wave – and then select native files in any format, not just PDF. Acrobat X Pro then assembles your portfolio and opens up a dedicated Layout task pane to manage editing.
With this pane you can swap between the five default layouts and also choose between five new visual themes – Clean, Spring, Tech Office, Modern and Translucent – as well as five palette-based colour schemes. You can also take full control over the portfolio background, setting a gradient, adding an image, setting opacity, blurring and so on. Put it together and all users gain reasonable control over the design of their portfolios, while Flash experts can produce custom layouts and themes for their own unique house styles.
Adobe has also added new web capabilities to portfolios. To begin with, Web Content can be added in the forms of URLs or embed tags (handy for YouTube-hosted video), which can then be previewed within the portfolio itself or opened into a browser. There’s also a Save PDF Portfolio as Web Site command, which sounds a promising way of making a portfolio available online but wasn’t working with our late beta.
PDF Portfolios are neither as new nor as universally useful as Adobe’s marketing suggests. However, Acrobat X Pro’s portfolio handling is certainly simpler and stronger than version 9’s, and enabling users to brand their PDF communications professionally is a real selling point. Along with additions such as action-based automation and full Reader X-based review, Acrobat X Pro provides enough reasons for most offices and studios to upgrade or buy it. At this price, though, most workplaces will try to make do with a single copy.