- The Washington Times - Monday, July 7, 2008

Adobe Systems‘ Acrobat 9 Professional, recently released, is worth every penny of the $459 list price, especially if you work with documents, with forms or with data. In Washington, I believe, that’s just about everyone, including most street vendors.

A disclaimer: I’m really not a shill for Adobe Systems Inc. However, I am consistent in my belief that Adobe’s portable document format, or PDF, is one of the most important communications advances in the past 20 years. Among the many blessings of the PDF format is the ability to combine many types of media in one document, as well as to be able to read that document across many computing platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux all have very good PDF “client” software widely available.

Another plus of PDF is that it isn’t easy to alter: If I send you an invoice in a word-processing or spreadsheet format, you could conceivably change the numbers before it’s processed. It’s more difficult to change a PDF document, and a creator can make such a document all but impregnable.

However, with the new version of Acrobat, Adobe raises the bar in several areas. Not only can you combine various media types in a single PDF “portfolio,” but that can now include music and other audio files as well as Adobe Flash-based videos. Suddenly, an electronic book, a proposal or an annual report, when “read” on a computer screen, can spring to life in ways it couldn’t before.

If this doesn’t spark a new wave of creativity, I don’t know what would. For $459, you’re not just getting a way to create tamperproof files, but rather a multimedia packaging system whose usefulness may know no bounds.

There’s more than just packaging here, however. Acrobat 9 also can take forms - scanned in or received as PDF or Word documents - and detect the spots where someone can either check off an option, click a “radio button” or enter text. Once detected, it can produce a version that allows users to do just those things as well as set up a way to collect the data and export the results in a format that is friendly to spreadsheets and database software.

This may not replace sophisticated SQL front ends for large database systems, but in many circumstances, it will make life easier. Just about anyone can create a form, and Acrobat 9 will handle the “back end” work of making it data-friendly. The applications should be readily apparent.

There’s also a way for users to collaborate - online and in real time - over the contents of a PDF document, if desired. While such files can be screwed down tighter than a submarine’s entrance hatch, it’s also possible to keep them open for collaboration. It’s good stuff.

I’ve been working with a pre-release copy of Acrobat 9 for several weeks. I’m impressed by the range of features, the stability and Adobe’s continuing innovation with this product. At least one small British book publisher I know has sold its printing press and, using secured PDFs, sends massive files to a printer in Thailand to produce books at a fraction of the cost. This technology makes that possible.

I’m not an Adobe shill - really - but I will admit a preference for those tools that I’ve seen work well and improve over the years. Acrobat 9 is in that category, and there may be no better way to get your ideas across, particularly now, where multimedia seems to be a byword.

E-mail Mark Kellner.