PRODUCT REVIEW

Adobe Acrobat 9

Reviewed by David L. Masters

The latest version of Adobe Acrobat hit the market earlier this year. Acrobat now comes in three flavors: Standard, Pro, and Pro Extended. These are not to be confused with the free Adobe Reader. With Reader you can view, search, and print portable document format (PDF) files. You need one of the full versions of Acrobat to create PDF files, scan paper to PDF, apply security, create forms, and much more.

Product Family

Which version of Acrobat is right for legal professionals? It depends, but you should consider Pro or Pro Extended.

Acrobat 9 Standard. This version is the choice for creating and distributing PDF files and forms. With the release of Version 9, Acrobat Standard has the ability to create fillable PDF forms, distribute those forms, and collect the information. The Standard package can now enable users of Adobe Reader (Version 8 or later) to fill in and save PDF forms locally; this feature was previously available only with Acrobat Professional.

Acrobat 9 Pro. Formerly Acrobat Professional, this package continues to be the workhorse and best choice for legal professionals, who need to work with PDF documents. You’ll need Pro if you want to redact PDF files, convert Autodesk AutoCAD, Microsoft Visio, and Microsoft Project files to PDF, or enable users of Adobe Reader to digitally sign PDF files.

Acrobat 9 Pro Extended. A new version added with this release, this package has all the capabilities of Acrobat 3D Version 8, and more. With Pro Extended you can drag and drop any type of multimedia format onto Acrobat and convert it to Flash video automatically. I expect that some lawyers will find the new Adobe Presenter, an add-in for Microsoft PowerPoint, worth the extra cost of Pro Extended. Presenter allows you to add audio, video, and SWF (Shockwave Flash files) in a PowerPoint presentation and then save to PDF for viewing with Adobe Reader.

Pricing. Adobe sells Acrobat 9 Standard for $299 ($99 for an upgrade), Acrobat 9 Pro for $449 ($159 for an upgrade), and Acrobat 9 Pro Extended for $699 ($229 for an upgrade). In the end, the choice comes down to which features you need. You can see a feature comparison chart at www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/matrix.html.

New Features

Acrobat 9 includes several new features that lawyers will find particularly useful.

PDF Portfolios. An upgrade of the Acrobat 8 package feature, PDF Portfolios combines multiple files, including multimedia video and audio, into a single PDF file. A PDF Portfolio is more than just a set of documents arranged in a linear sequence; it can include powerful navigation tools for helping users find their way through a complex set of files. Check out the navigation aid that looks like the iTunes interface or the one that slides document images left and right as you move through the Portfolio contents—cool stuff.

PDF Portfolios can enrich legal materials, including briefs, settlement brochures, and transactional documents. Problems may arise if you embed raw documents such as Word files or Excel spreadsheets into a PDF Portfolio instead of converting those files to PDF first. The problem occurs if the computer that someone uses to view the Portfolio does not have the software installed to open those embedded files. When that happens, the recipient of your Portfolio will be bombarded by error messages when Windows WordPad tries to open the Word files and fails. Avoid such unpleasantness by converting all files in the Portfolio to PDF.

Split documents. Sometimes, rather than combining files into a single PDF, you need to split one to many. Although this new feature did not even make the “What’s New” list in the Help file, legal professionals may find it particularly useful. PDF file splitting has long been the domain of third-party plug-ins, many of which provide more powerful features than those built into Acrobat 9. That said, when your client or opposing counsel brings you a 5,000-page PDF file, you can now split it into multiple, smaller files. You specify the split by maximum number of pages, maximum file size, or by top-level bookmarks. File size splitting might be handy for electronic court filings, whereas bookmark splitting will see a lot of use in my office.

Acrobat.com. This might be the reason to upgrade to Acrobat 9. With this feature, Adobe offers the beta release of an online community that facilitates collaboration so users can store documents and literally work on the same page at the same time. Acrobat.com includes Buzzword, a word processor with collaborative editing and commenting features, and 5 GB of file storage. Better yet, Acrobat.com includes ConnectNow, a web-conferencing and desktop-sharing tool that enables chatting via text, video, and voice. With ConnectNow you and your client can look at the same page of the same document at the same time. This free web conferencing is limited to three participants; you’ll have to upgrade to Connect for $39 per month to have 15 participants or Connect Pro for even bigger audiences and monthly fees.

Embedded video. Clips from video depositions and accident scene drive-throughs can now be added to settlement brochures or briefs. A new feature (in Pro Extended) converts standard video formats into Flash format and embeds videos in a PDF file that can be viewed by anyone who has the free Adobe Reader 9. Videos can be embedded into a PDF so that they start running when the PDF file opens, or when the surrounding page opens, or when the user clicks in the video. This capability might sound appealing, but I have some concerns. PDF stands for portable document format. When images on the page begin to move, do we still have a document? What happens when you print a document with embedded video? If nothing else, the printout will not be an accurate representation of the original file. And what about portability? Adding Flash to PDF files will make them less portable. Flash may be nearly ubiquitous on the Windows and Mac platforms, but what about Linux? Also, there are many handhelds and other devices that can render PDF files just fine but lack the power to render video animation.

Improved Features

Adobe has also upgraded several key features in Acrobat 9 from previous versions.

Typewriter. This handy tool, introduced in Acrobat 8, allows you to “type” on any PDF file. Much like the typewriter it emulated, this tool was limited to a single font of fixed size. Now, in Acrobat 9, the typewriter tool allows for choice of typeface, point size, color, and line spacing.

Security. Security enhancements enable users to add 256-bit encryption, the same as that used by online banks. Securing PDF files could not be much more thorough when combined with digital signatures and metadata removal.

Redaction. Another feature introduced with Acrobat 8 Professional, the Redaction Tool now allows searches for numeric patterns in addition to multiple words and phrases. You can find every accidental mention of a Social Security number or top-secret product and black each of them out in your PDF with a single blow.

Conclusion

I like Acrobat 9. Overall it seems just a bit smoother than Acrobat 8. The new and improved features, which include many more than those mentioned here, are worth the price to upgrade. If you’re not already an Acrobat user, now’s the time to become one.

Acrobat 9 for the Mac

Reviewed by Jeffrey Allen

For the last several versions of Adobe’s Acrobat software, David Masters and I have done joint reviews of the Windows and the Macintosh versions of the program. Adobe has done a decent job of creating software for each platform that operates pretty much the same way and has substantially identical features, at least to a point.

If you compare Acrobat 9 Pro for Windows with Acrobat 9 Pro for the Macintosh, you find that the two versions have substantially all the same features and operate the same way. Some of the keyboard codes differ between the two versions, as do a few of the features, but largely they are the same program. Both sell for $449 ($159 for an upgrade).

On the Windows side, Adobe has also produced a Standard and a Pro Extended version. These do not exist in the Mac world. The absence of a Standard version generates a substantial “ho-hum.” The simple fact of the matter is that the Pro version has the features lawyers need (such as redaction and Bates stamping) and the Standard version does not.

The Pro Extended version available for Windows includes Adobe’s new presentation software, which represents a substantial package of new features. These features are not essential to the function of Acrobat in a law office, but they are features that some attorneys might find useful.

The feature set of the Pro version is as David describes in his review. The good news is that the feature improvements work well on both platforms. The introduction of Acrobat 9’s Portfolio structure in lieu of the Packages feature used in previous versions represents the opening of a door for Adobe; they have recently augmented the Portfolio feature with a number of additional formats, increasing its flexibility and its utility. Presumably more formats will come in the future. At least we know the program has that potential.

Acrobat 9 for the Macintosh also shows a substantial improvement of the optical character recognition (OCR) capabilities, which now work much faster than in the previous version.

The bottom line is that Acrobat 9 improves on Acrobat 8’s performance in an evolutionary way, but not in a revolutionary way. For several years I have advocated that every law office should have Adobe Acrobat software. If you do not yet have Acrobat 8, get version 9. If you already have Acrobat 8, I recommend that you upgrade. The improvements justify the cost.

David L. Masters practices law in Montrose, Colorado, and may be reached at dlm@masterslawfirm.com. Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California. A frequent speaker on technology topics, he is the special issue editor of GPSolo’s Technology & Practice Guide and editor-in-chief of the Technology eReport. In addition to being licensed as an attorney in California, he has been admitted as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales. He holds faculty positions at California State University of the East Bay and the University of Phoenix. He may be reached at jallenlawtek@aol.com. You may also get updated technology information from his blog: jallenlawtekblog.com.

Copyright 2008

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