- The Washington Times - Monday, June 11, 2001

One of the best-kept secrets in the computer world ? as I?ve said here before ? is Adobe Acrobat, a document creation and management package from Adobe Systems Inc., of San Jose, Calif. The firm recently released version 5.0 of the program, list price $249.

I say it?s a secret not because you can?t find the software ?it?s available in all the right places ? or because Adobe doesn?t promote the package, because they do. Yet most people seem to know one feature of Adobe Acrobat, and that?s the free ?Acrobat Reader? software available at the firm?s Web site, www.adobe.com.

But how can you create the Portable Document Format (PDF) documents that are read by the reader software? For that, the full Acrobat software is needed. Once you get it a whole new world opens up.

For one thing, Acrobat documents are smaller ? a good 30 percent to 60 percent ? than equivalent Microsoft Word files. That means you can fit more in an e-mail, on a CD, or whatever. It also makes it easier to carry documents on a handheld device, since there is now PDF software for Palm platform devices.

But those documents can be easily ?repurposed? by the recipient ? if you want them to do that. Creators can allow a user to export a PDF file into ?real text format,? or RTF, a document standard easily read by Microsoft Word, WordPerfect and other word processors. RTF keeps the formatting and special character attributes (bold, italics, etc.) of the original, so the content can move over with ease and accuracy. And, Acrobat 5.0 lets the document creator decide to allow users the ability to extract images from Adobe PDF documents and save them as TIFF, JPEG, or PNG files.

Most important ? these features are ones you can select, which means that some PDF documents can have greater security than others, if that?s what you want.

Adobe claims the new flexibilities in Acrobat 5.0 are just what large organizations need.

?Professionals can now work more efficiently as individuals and with teams; customers have enhanced capabilities for creating, digitally signing and sending secure documents; businesses can more effectively use electronic forms to reduce costs and increase the accuracy of information in those forms; and users can distribute information in a more accessible manner to people with disabilities,? the firm says in a statement. That last bit should be of interest to federal agencies striving to meet Section 508 compliance deadlines, I?d imagine.

Using Acrobat to create forms works well for organizations such as the IRS, where you can download, fill in (on computer) and then print out a whole range of forms. Few people enjoy doing paperwork and fewer still like doing it for the tax man. Yet if such work has to be done, it?s nice to be able to fill out (and then send in) a form that?s legible and readable because you could do it on a computer screen.

Acrobat 5.0 claims several improvements including tighter Web integration between PDF documents and Web pages. It also supports industry standard protocols such as Open DataBase Connectivity (ODBC) that connect PDF forms with back-end databases, and easier data exchange in PDF files through support for the eXtensible Markup Language (XML). That latter attribute is important, since XML is taking on a larger and larger role in Web design.

In operation, installing and using Adobe Acrobat is a cakewalk: it loads easily and functions seamlessly inside a Web browser or in Microsoft Word. You can ?print? a document as a PDF file using a driver installed along with the main software.

Some may balk at the $249 price, and yes, there are other programs out on the Web that?ll create PDF files for you (though perhaps without all the features of Acrobat 5.0). But if your business involves the movement of documents and ideas ? as would seem to be the case of so many in Washington and environs ? then Acrobat 5.0 is a ?must have? utility that?ll prove its value many times over.

• Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to [email protected], or visit the writer?s Web page, www.kellner2000.com. Talk back live to Mark every Thursday from 8 to 9 p.m., Eastern time, on www.adrenaline-radio.com.

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