Adobe Acrobat X Review Part 2 – Feature Focus: Portfolios and Redaction Tools (Updated)

In Part 1 of my Acrobat X review, I provided an overview of changes to Acrobat X and described changes to the look and feel of the Acrobat X family of products.  But no list of new features will matter unless those new features matter to you.  With that in mind, I want to dive into a few of the new and enhanced features of Acrobat X that are likely to be of use in the legal setting.

PDF Portfolios

Adobe introduced “PDF Portfolios” in Acrobat 9.  Acrobat X enhances the PDF Portfolio concept in crucial ways, filling some gaps from the first version of the tool and fixing a key issue that prevented me from making more than passing use of the PDF Portfolio tool.

If you haven’t seen a PDF Portfolio, think of it as a wrapper, much like a zip file, but with interactive properties.  When you assemble a PDF Portfolio, you can include multiple files, of different file types, inside the Portfolio.  Once created, the PDF Portfolio is more like an electronic binder that can hold Microsoft Office files, pdfs, flash videos, graphic file formats, and, interestingly, folders and web pages, among other types of supported content.

Why not just covert all your files to pdfs and then combine them into one giant pdf?  There are actually many reasons why using a PDF Portfolio can prove to be a superior alternative to merging multiple files into a single PDF: 

  • You can add or remove whole files easily, without having to find and select the specific pages that come from one file.
  • You can preview files without having to open them in their original, native applications.  In other words, you or your recipient can view a word document or an excel spreadsheet without ever having to leave Acrobat.
  • You can change individual files within the PDF Portfolio without affecting the other files. For example, you could renumber pages in one document without renumbering other documents in the PDF Portfolio. You can also edit other file types in their native applications from within a PDF Portfolio.  Changes you make are saved to the file within the PDF Portfolio.
  • You can sort component files with the help of user-created categories.  These categories can be changed, removed, or hidden.  Once you’ve created categories, sorting is as simple as clicking on a column name to sort the list, just like you would do in Explorer.  [More on a sorting-related enhancement below.]
  • You can print all the PDFs in a PDF Portfolio, or selected certain PDFs.
  • Search one or all files in a PDF Portfolio, including different file types incorporated as component files.
  • Add non-PDF files to a PDF Portfolio without converting them to PDF.
  • The original source files added to a PDF Portfolio are not changed when you create a PDF Portfolio. Changes you make to the component files within a PDF Portfolio do not alter the original files. You can move a PDF Portfolio without any risk of losing its components.
  • Include the same file in multiple PDF Portfolios.

PDF Portfolios have a number of use cases that should be of interest to the legal profession.  In my case, I have used PDF Portfolios to create mediation briefs with exhibits.  I have prepared mediation briefs that incorporate as many as 30 attached exhibits, all wrapped into a PDF Portfolio.  At least for Mediators that are tech-fans, this was easier and less expensive than sending everything to a printer for binding.  But when I created PDF Portfolios in Acrobat 9, I found that I had to use a file-naming trick to organize the files in my Portfolio.  Acrobat 9 did not allow you to control the order of files in a PDF Portfolio; they were alphabetical, using alpha-numeric rules.  To sort the exhibits to my mediation briefs, I had to use a two or three digit number with the exhibits to get them to sort right (e.g., “Tab 01 – Name1” “Tab 02 – Name2,” etc.).  If I used a single digit for “Tab 1,” it didn’t sort correctly when I made it up to “Tab 11.”

Acrobat X fixed that difficult limitation.  Now drag-and-drop organizing is available.  This makes the PDF Portfolio so much more flexible.  Now you can create a Mediation brief, a client document package, or an evidence repository, complete with customized tags for sorting and a comment field for annotations.  You could actually use a Portfolio as a “hot documents” binder that you update as a case moves along.

The interface, like the rest of the program, is clean and attractive: 

Screenshot 1

Acrobat X also includes a number of additional tools for layouts, themes, backgrounds and colors.  A Portfolio can be branded with a firm’s identity colors and logo (but don’t overdo it; heavy-handed branding makes my head hurt): 

Screenshot 2

The PDF Portfolio tool is now a feature with some punch, thanks, in no small part, to the small but crucial addition of drag-and-drop sorting to organize the PDF Portfolio.

Redaction Tools

You’ve probably heard the stories about firms filing “redacted” documents with courts, only to become front page legal news when someone discovered that the “redaction” was an easily removed black box over the sensitive information.  And despite those stories, I still encounter law firms that don’t understand how to use the redaction tools in Acrobat.  For example, opposing counsel in a case that I am currently working on revealed personal contact information because of an incorrect redaction.  Things like this should no longer be happening.

While redaction was available in Acrobat 9, the redaction and security tools are enhanced in Acrobat X.

Among the new features in Acrobat X Pro is the ability to customize the appearance of text or images marked for redaction. You can change the fill color and the opacity at the bottom of the window to personalize how redaction marks appear before they are applied.  I find this enhancement helpful when reviewing a long document for redaction.  A fill color makes an unapplied redaction stand out until you are ready to apply it.

You can also repeat a redaction mark across multiple pages when, for example, a number or e-mail address repeats across pages.  Just mark the first instance, right-click and select “Repeat” to apply the same redaction to additional pages.

Acrobat X has also improved its ability to find and permanently remove metadata, annotations, attachments, form fields, layers, and bookmarks.  The Remove Hidden Information feature can now find content including JavaScript, links, and overlapping images and shapes.  I haven’t tested this yet, but this enhanced tool might help when a pdf is rejected by an electronic filing system, such as the painful system used by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

PDF Portfolios and enhanced redaction and security tools are two feature sets that law firms should take into account if an upgrade to Acrobat X is under consideration.  Importantly, these two feature sets are only available in Acrobat Pro X and above - two good reasons to spring for Acrobat Pro X.

Adobe Acrobat X Review Part 1: Overview and Feel/Appearance Changes

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.

Overview

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:

Screenshot 1

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:

Screenshot 2

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:

Screenshot 3

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.