I've been meaning to deliver a comprehensive review of Acrobat X for about three months now. It's not that I don't like the product; it is an exceptional piece of productivity software. Rather, life has been in the way. Between an absurd amount of work to do and moving into a new home and a six year old daughter that demanded the scraps of time between working and packing and moving, well, something had to give. But this review has been slowly taking shape, in scraps of sections and screenshots, until it was close enough to done that I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. So, much delayed, here is my comprehensive review of Acrobat X, with a strong slant towards the smaller law office.
As I said about Acrobat 9 when I compared it to Acrobat 8, this is a mature product. Changes in products with this degree of longevity tend to be, for the most part, evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Think about Microsoft Word for a minute. The differences between Word 2010 and Word 2007 are not the giant leaps that happened when Word 2.0 (the first version I used - and how amazing it seemed back then) stepped up to its next version. The same can be said of Acrobat X, though it includes a few revolutionary suprises amonst the evolutionary improvements.
Acrobat X family includes Acrobat X Pro, Acrobat X Standard, Adobe Reader X, and the Acrobat X Suite (Acrobat X Pro, Adobe Photoshop CS5, Adobe Captivate 5, Adobe Presenter 7, Adobe LiveCycle Designer ES2, and Adobe Media Encoder CS5). I am going to focus my review on the standalone produce, Acrobat X Pro, and its features, while occasionally identifying features that are not available in the Standard edition (if you are going to buy Acrobat X, just get the Pro edition already - you know you want all the features).
Opinions as to the top new features can vary, depending upon what you do most with Acrobat. But, generally speaking, the most significant new features in Acroabat X Pro are:
- Customize PDF Portfolios by selecting from new layouts, visual themes, and color palettes (Arcrobat 9 introduced PDF portfolios, but formatting and ordering of contents was limited)
- Automate multi-step tasks and share with others using the new Action Wizard (save a multi-step document processing macro and share it throughout your firm)
- Enhanced paper-to-digital functionality for scanning and OCR (prior versions had OCR, but the file sizes and accuracy are both improved, as are the capabilities of export tools)
- Integrates with SharePoint (considering how impressive the latest version of SharePoint is a document management solution that anyone can afford, this is a big feature for law firms)
- Streamlined commenting and access to mark-up tools
- Customizable Quick Tools area (make Acrobat X work better for you by placing your frequently used tools right where you need them)
- Experience enhanced PDF viewing with Reading Mode (much like kiosk mode in a browser, the "chrome" is limited and the document is the focus)
- Improved web experience to open and view PDF documents (better solution for converting web sites to pdfs)
- Work with Microsoft Windows 7 and Office 2010 applications
- Send and store large documents using services at Acrobat.com (I've already found SendNow at Acrobat.com to be an efficient tool for sharing very large files; Acrobat X integrates those online features)
Other enhanced feature of great importance in the legal field include:
- Enhanced removal of metadata
- Better form creation tools
- Enhanced document comparison tool
- Export search results to a PDF or spreadsheet (this is an amazing feature if you want to keep a record of how you found key information in a document set)
While I still maintain that this is an evolutionary update, there are some impressive new features in this edition.
Feel and Appearance Changes
It looks to me like Adobe decided to incorporate appearance elements throughout its product line, much like Microsoft has done with the Ribbon in its Office applications. The Acrobat X Pro interface now makes use of a tools area that is not unlike the tools panels familiar for years to Photoshop product users. You need to see the clean new interface to understand, but, if you read this review without access to a full browser, the idea is that frequently used options are available in a Tools/Comment/Share panel on the right side of the Acrobat interface, but the panel gets out of your way when you don't need it. Here is a screen shot of Acrobat X in its basic configuration:
Note the "Tools" "Comment" and "Share" text above and on the right of the document. When you select one of the "links," for lack of a better term, a variety of tools appear in a panel on the right side of the document:
In this example, the panel has opened to the "Action Wizard," which includes preset actions and a tool for creating your own actions. [Note: "Actions" are like macros. You could, for example, create an action that applies a customized bates label to documents.] The tools you see in the panel on the right can also be accessed through menu controls. Whatever works best for you is the way you should use the program; there is no one right method for accessing features.
Returning, for a moment, to my comment about a unifying design theme in Adobe programs, take a look at this screenshot from Photoshop Elements 8:
A graphics creation and editing program will have very different features from Acrobat, but the common design cues are unmistakeable. I consider this to be a major plus. When programs place the same types of tools in the same places, it makes it that much easier to pick up a new program and hit the ground running. It makes the software more approachable, and I think that Adobe has, over the last two versions of Acrobat, stepped back from a features-only focus to a broader viewpoint where user experience is as important as the obligatory list of new and upgraded features.
Certainly, the presence of the "Share" panel in Acrobat X (and in Photoshop, for that matter) highlights the increasing recognition that "cloud-based" services will soon match or surpass the desktop computer in importance. SendNow is integrated in Acrobat X, but so is SharePoint access.
Acrobat X is a better looking, easier-to-operate update to the mainstay in electronic document creation. Acrobat X is a worthwhile upgrade from Acrobat 9 and a must-have upgrade if you are using any earlier version of Acrobat.
The next Part of this review will dive into some of the key features that should interest attorneys. When the review is complete, I will creat a Table of Contents post that links back to each review part.