GPSolo Magazine - December 2003

Product Review
Adobe Acrobat 6

Adobe Acrobat has become a must-have application in any law office. With version 6, Adobe has taken a great product and improved it, adding a new dynamic zoom, a display mode for using Acrobat as a simple presentation tool, and the ability to set the opacity/transparency of the standard graphics (boxes, circles, and polygons can now be used to highlight in image-only files).

If Adobe’s portable document format (PDF) has not already changed the legal landscape, it soon will. Designed to truly cross platforms, PDF is now nearly the de facto standard for the interchange of documents in the legal environment. Courts and other government institutions have standardized to PDF, and so should you. The tool of choice for generating and working with documents in PDF file formats, the new program is easier to use and more tightly integrated into commonly used applications. Version 6 splits Acrobat into three grades: Reader, Standard, and Professional. Acrobat Reader remains available as a free download, in read-only form. Acrobat Standard ($99 upgrade, $299 full version) (all prices quoted in this review are list) targets business professionals and includes similar features as version 5. Acrobat Standard includes the ability to import data from scanners via a TWAIN interface and to work with digital signatures and offers modest form design and greatly enhanced capabilities for comments and revisions. The premium Professional version ($149 upgrade, $499 full) includes all elements of the Standard version and adds industrial-strength features for creating, editing, and restructuring PDF files. Additional features are discussed below.

The first thing to notice about Acrobat 6 is the revamped interface in all versions. The previous collection of icons has been replaced with a simplified array of buttons that function as drop-down menus. By clicking on the Create PDF button, for example, a toolbar appears showing the available methods to do so. The user can create the PDF from a file (primarily Microsoft Office), several files, a website, a scanner, or a clipboard image. The new user interface is quite different: There are more menus and all seem logically designed and feature pastel colors and transparent lists.

Acrobat 6 improves on key PDF navigation aids. The left side of the display holds navigation tabs for accessing bookmarks, layers, pages, signatures, and comments. Comments appeared on the left in version 5, but 6 moves the comments panel to the bottom of the screen (similar to its location in Word). The screen can be split, with the left panel displaying a representation of all pages in the document, the center panel displaying the actual document, and the right panel featuring a how-to menu. This allows easy navigation through larger documents—when scrolling through the document in the center panel, the pages displayed in the left panel are highlighted accordingly. These document-mapping features allow users to know where they are in the document at any point. Search operations are similarly slick. The matches appear in a format that is familiar to everyone who uses Internet search engines. Selecting a match highlights it in the main document window.

Adobe also substantially improved the zoom and viewing functions, adding a new dynamic zoom feature through which users can rapidly zoom in and out and simplify navigation. The magnifying tool (see illustration at left) allows a specific area to be enlarged up to 6,400 percent—great for zooming in on details in plats, maps, and fine-print documents.

Version 6 has added help features. A “how-to” window appears when users load the program; it contains links to major features and will be valuable for beginners and upgraders alike (and can also be hidden by the old pros). Most of the buttons in the new toolbar also display a context-sensitive help option.

The only way to import web pages in version 5 was through Acrobat, which meant secure sites could not be easily saved to PDFs. Version 6 improves this function by working from within the browser so users can easily save electronic statements, receipts, and web orders directly to PDFs. Web pages can be converted to PDF directly from Internet Explorer with a single click, and pages captured to PDF now come with Macromedia Flash content (those animated objects in web pages) preserved. The new format supports jpeg2000 image compression and can fully embed multimedia content instead of linking to external audio and movie files.

Collaboration tools, one of the core competencies of Acrobat in the law office, have been improved in Acrobat 6. Color-coded notes, like floating sticky notes, can be created to appear on documents in their entirety, to pop up when moused over, or to be specifically selected. Adobe has been expanding comment and notational capabilities, and these are valuable for the legal world, where the exchange of documents is a daily task.

Acrobat 6 drawing tools can now be used to highlight image-only files (see illustrations below), an impossibility in version 5. Many documents scanned to PDF contain handwriting that cannot be converted to text through optical character recognition (OCR). Adobe now allows the user to set the opacity (or transparency; one of those glass half-full vs. half-empty things) of shapes (rectangle, oval, arrow, line, cloud, polygon, and polygon line). Once the desired shade and opacity have been established, these settings can be preserved as the default for a particular shape. By using fully or semi-transparent shape tools, even handwriting can be highlighted.

Adobe has also beefed up support for presentations and multimedia and now supports more file formats, including MP3, ASF, and RealPlayer. The new “read out loud” command, which uses voice synthesis, can read PDF text back to you, and the new display mode allows for slide-like presentations of pure PDF files.

Acrobat 6 converts any document created using any application into a cross-platform PDF file. PDF files can incorporate internal and external hyperlinks, maintain rich graphic content, and provide indexing and searching within documents. Acrobat 6 is powerful, sleek, and well designed—a real and complete makeover that is well worth the investment

David L. Masters practices law in Montrose, Colorado, and can be reached at dlm@masterslawfirm.com.

 

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