On November 21, 2009, Adobe® released a substantial update to Acrobat.com. I spent some time poking around my Acrobat.com accounts to see the updates in person, and some new features will be of interest to legal professionals.
Before commenting on the updates, I want to take a moment to recap the basic of what is offered at Acrobat.com. Acrobat.com contains aspects of what the digerati would call "cloud computing." The files you create and/or store on Acrobat.com are "in the cloud," not on your computer. If hearing "cloud computing" makes you ill, then just refer to Acrobat.com as a collection of services hosted online. Users can create basic word processing documents (Adobe Buzzword®), presentations (Acrobat.com Presentations), basic spreadsheets (Acrobat.com Tables), upload a variety of file formats and quickly convert them to PDF, store files, easily share files with others or launch an Adobe ConnectNow online meeting and collaborate on documents in real time. The experience presented in your browser is based on the Adobe Flash® Platform.
Before the most recent Acrobat.com update, I was already using the file sharing tools right on this site to embed a flash-based PDF viewer that shows visitors documents stored on Acrobat.com. I have also used the storage and sharing functions to deliver large documents to others. These services almost always worked for me exactly as promised (in the early days of Acrobat.com, there were times when files would get stuck in some sort of an anti-virus scan queue for hours or never show up; that issue was resolved quite a while ago).
Now I want to mention some of the key improvements to the Acrobat.com suite of hosted tools that might interest lawyers. First, Acrobat.com now offers a unified interface as the starting point for most Acrobat.com applications. Previously, the interface was somewhat disjointed. Now, users see file organizer with a much-improved interface:
From this launch point, a user can share files, upload files, create "collections" to organize files, and so on. One very imporant feature set that has been added here is the ability to export to a variety of file types, depending upon whether you are working with a word processing document, a presentation, or a spreadsheet. Presentations now includes support for importing PPT/PPTX files. In other words, you can build a presentation on Acrobat.com and then convert it to PowerPoint if you want to use that tool in a setting where online connectivity is an issue. Similarly, users can export their tables to PDF, XLS or CSV for sharing data in whatever format is best suited for the situation. Buzzword supports export in DOC, DOCX, RTF, TXT, ODT, ZIP, PDF, and now EPUB, the electronic book publishing format for eBook readers such as Stanza on the iPhone, Sony Reader, and others.
A side comment: The addition of EPUB support is smart on Adobe's part. With Flash and Acrobat.com, Adobe is right in the thick of a brewing battle for control over the format in which various types of content will be delivered to you in the future. It's probably not to extreme to say that Apple despises Flash. It won't support it on the iPhone, and Apple is hoping that the html 5 specification will marginalize Flash. Google is probably no huge fan of Flash either and would likely prefer html 5 to do in Flash as well. But Flash is everywhere. It is ubiquitous on the web. By supporting EBUB, Adobe is offering support for an open ebook format (and sticking Apple and Amazon's Kindle in the eye at the same time). By demonstrating that data stored on Acrobat.com will not remain hostage to a single proprietary document format, Adobe may woo more users.
Presenations receive some added features as well. You can browse through color sets created by designers in Adobe Kuler. Instead of using the same color schemes, these sets let you appear to be a bit more color coordinated when you design a Presentation. You can also now search Google and Flickr for images in include in Presentations:
These improvements make Presentation a credible tool for assembling a basic presentation. With the ability to incorporate FLV video, Presentation is now an interesting option. The ability to export to Powerpoint formats adds the peace of mind that you won't have to wing it when the wifi hotspot you were counting on isn't working.
Acrobat.com is also planning on the ability to integrate with a mobile applications. The Acrobat.com mobile application by scanR® will allow users to upload document images from a supported mobile phone and have them automatically stored as searchable PDF files in Acrobat.com. In addition, users can read their files stored in Acrobat.com, share files with others and fax documents from their Acrobat.com organizer or directly from their smartphone. Users of the free service will be able to send two outbound faxes and upload up to five documents from a mobile phone. An upgrade is available for users that need to fax or upload more documents. I'd love to say that I've used the Acrobat.com mobile application on the iPhone and tell you about my experiences, but the Apple application review process is so broken that they still don't have Adobe's application available. I was told by Adobe that they submitted it quite some time ago, but since some developers have been waiting for months just to get a bug fix pushed out, who knows when Apple will get around to approving an application for its good buddies at Adobe.
One benefit of using the Acrobat.com tools is the ability for multiple authors to work on documents at the same time. Multiple authors can contribute to slides in a Presenations, enter data in a Table or draft content and comments in a Buzzword document. This enables true collaborative document creation. Lawyers in different locations could work on an agreement together, rather than playing document tennis with e-mail.
My comments about Acrobat.com do not cover the full set of features enabled for each of the applications on Acrobat.com. I'm just hitting some of the interesting highlights. I am interested to see whether users will embrace Acrobat.com or one of the other 800 pound gorillas in the room that are moving into the "cloud computing" space (i.e., Microsoft, which is moving Office tools online, and Google, with its hodgepodge of online services). I don't believe Google's "do no evil" schtick. I am not comfortable with Google ending up as the company that knows about everything I search for and everthing I store. I want multiple competitors in this space so I have options when one goliath or another is naughty with my bits. Adobe still suffers from a bit of closed format-itis, but Adobe may be adjusting to the times with the EPUB move.
You can follow Acrobat.com on twitter: www.twitter.com/acrobatdotcom
As a final note, I don't receive any premium access to Acrobat.com. I just get the services I am willing to pay for right now, which is the free service.