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.

You (or your support staff) should know this Acrobat feature

I'm working on Part II of my Acrobat X review.  Until that is finished, here's a bit of instructional advice that will help you survive that dreaded court requirement to consecutively number exhibits.  Compliments of PDF for Lawyers, the "Header & Footer" option in the Document menu allows for the addition of all sorts of numbering and labeling schemes.  I must confess that the ease with which pdfs can be created and assembled and the increasing ease with which documents can be e-filed with some courts has had an unexpected side-effect on some of my filings - I forget the exhibit labeling requirements imposed under some rules of court.  It was almost easier to remember when you had to go to the trouble of hand stamping each page or running the exhibit through a laser printer a second time.

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.

Adobe SendNow offers a reliable tool for distributing large files

Back in November 2010, Adobe unveiled cloud services of note to legal professionals, including Adobe SendNow and Adobe CreatePDF.  See this prior post.  Since then, I have been putting SendNow in particular through its paces.  If I had shame, I would at this point confess shame at having experimented on decent defense counsel.  "Tell me about your impressions of the file delivery process provided by SendNow."  "Did you have any problems retrieving the files I sent?"  "Was anything unclear to you?"  I experimented on more than one, so know that you are not alone.

A quick recap is probably necessary.  SendNow is a service that delivers large files (in the case of my testing, VERY large files) to one or more recipients.  In my case, I sent files larger than 100MB through the service.  I wanted to see if I could make it choke.  They were retrieved without a hitch.  I sent them from different computers to different recipients.  They were retrieved without a hitch.  I received e-mail reports advising me when each file was retrieved.  And my interviews of unsuspecting counsel confirmed that the process appeared as simple on the recipient's end as it did on mine.  In all, an elegant and trouble-free cloud service that lawyers should appreciate.  Do you really want to burn another CD of pdfs for a document production when you receive a call that the last CD you sent had bad files on it?

The interface is clean and simple:

In the interface you can:  

  • upload multiple files in one step
  • designate one or more recipients
  • include a customized message in the delivery e-mail
  • specify whether a log-in is required
  • request delivery receipts, and,
  • set a lifespan for the files

Of additional value is the history function, which lets you examine the contents and retrieval status of prior transmissions.  If you convince others to use the service when sending to you, you can also monitor a list of files that you have received.

I give Adobe SendNow The Complex Litigator's badge of approval.  Or stamp.  I haven't made a good graphic for this yet, but you get the idea.

Coming soon:  A 10,000 mile review of Adobe Acrobat X (which happens to integrate quite seemlessly with Adobe's cloud services, like...SendNow and Acrobat.com).

Adobe rolls out new cloud services of interest to legal professionals

Two new Acrobat.com cloud services of interest to legal professionals, Adobe SendNow and Adobe CreatePDF, are now live.

E-mail systems still suffer from the lowest common denominator syndrome.  Your ability to send files is restricted by the lowest cap on attachment sizes in the e-mail transmission chain.  Systems for drop delivery of large files have been the solution for several years.  Adobe is offering a large file transmission service, but Adobe is differentiating itself from the crowd with additional transmission and monitoring features.  SendNow allows users to: 

  • Send large files from one computer to one or many recipients.
  • View files that they've sent in the past, and see when and to whom they were sent.
  • Keep an eye out for files that have been sent to you.

As with SendNow, CreatePDF isn't the first of its kind online (in fact, it isn't the first such service from Adobe), but Adobe hopes to interest users in this latest cloud-based service with some fairly powerful features.  Adobe CreatePDF will (in addition to the standard conversion of Office documents, images and other supported files into an Adobe PDF from a web browser) enable users to: 

  • Combine documents into a single PDF file.
  • For users of Microsoft Windows, users will be able to install a special printer driver that will allow creation of a PDF file online from any application that can print.
  • Within Adobe Reader X, a new Share pane provides a connection to the online Adobe CreatePDF service, making it easy to create a document that others will be able to view consistently.

CreatePDF looks like good stuff for the small firm or solo practitioner, and SendNow looks useful for any size firm.  I will give SendNow a test drive so that I don't have to create private websites for large file exchanges or find some other kludge to get the job done (like abuse Acrobat.com's file sharing feature as though it were a file drop service).

Adobe announces Acrobat X and related service enhancements

Earlier today Adobe announced the soon-to-be-released Acrobat X family of products.  Having seen a demonstration of some pre-release features, I can say that Acrobat X looks like it will accomplish several important things from the standpoint of legal practitioners.  For example, the automation tools will increase the ease with which attorneys and support staff process documents.  PDF Portfolios receive several enhancements, including the ability to control the order of documents in the PDF Portfolio (if you haven't used this feature, it is essentially using the PDF as a wrapper around a number of different document types - the documents are packaged much like an electronic binder, complete with a cover page and designer color schemes).

Acrobat.com will add an explicit tool to do what I've been manually using it for since Acrobat.com first went live.  The SendNow tool will allow users to send large files that might not successfully move through e-mail systems.  The SendNow tool will provide delivery receipts, a helpful addition for document delivery.

Personally, I am also interested in the prospect of SharePoint integration.  Combined with improvements to SharePoint functions and improved SharePoint features available through Office 2010, SharePoint might make a very serviceable substitute for the pricey document management services that target the legal industry.

I will be sure to give Acrobat X a test drive when it is available and let you know how quickly you should look to update your stale version of Acrobat.  Here's a hint that doesn't even require a test drive - if you are using Acrobat 7 or below, you must rush to upgrade; if you are using Acrobat 8, you should give some serious thought to upgrading at your earliest convenience.  I'll let you know if you get enough out of the jump from Acrobat 9 to Acrobat X to justify the same recommendation that I give for versions 8 and below.

How-to: Fix PDF files that are rejected by the Central District filing system because of links - The Simple Method

I recently provided a method for dealing with PDFs rejected by the CM/ECF filing system (as it is implemented by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California).  That method is detailed here.  While that process of exporting a problematic document out to a new document format (XPS) and then back into PDF deals with a number of problems, not everyone will find it to be a comfortable solution.

Here is an alternative method for removing links from a PDF, if you have Acrobat 9:

  1. From the Advanced menu, select "Document Processing"
  2. Choose the "Remove All Links..." option
  3. Do it
That does it.  External hyperlinks distress the CM/ECF system, which, presumably, has been set to search for such links in order to prevent exploits that would lure unsuspecting clerks and judges to malicious websites.

With Apple's position clear, Adobe delivers Acrobat Reader to Android platform even as Android pulls even with iPhone OS

While Apple attempts to use its clout in the mobile web marketplace to kill Flash, the potential heir to the mobile throne, Google, has opted for the open route and, thus far, has encouraged Adobe to join the party.  Last week, at Google I/O, Adobe demonstrated a beta version of Flash 10.1 running on the Android mobile device operating system.  But Adobe had a few more Android tricks up its sleeve.

On May 21, 2010, Adobe announced that Adobe Reader is now available in the Android application marketplace.  First release features, according to Adobe, include:

Adobe Reader for Android offers multi-touch gestures, like pinch-and-zoom, as well as double-tap-zoom, flick-scrolling and panning. We've also added a "reflow" mode, which will take text-heavy documents with wide margins, and automatically wrap the content for easy viewing on smaller screens. 

So, for the last several years I have used an iPhone as my personal smartphone.  But, with developments like this, and a flood of sweet-looking devices running Android, it's hard not to consider trying the Android ecosystem.  Then again, I'm also intrigued by the potential of Windows Phone 7, so I hope that Adobe has plans to support what looks to be another powerhouse smartphone OS.  Decisions, decisions.

How-to: Fix PDF files that are rejected by the Central District filing system because of links or "code"

The United States District Court for the Central District of California has a very special online document filing system.  And I do mean special.  If you have experienced this filing system, you may have had an attempted filing rejected by the CM/ECF system because of "code" in the PDF.  This will not happen if a PDF document is generated by simple scanning.  I am only discussing an issue that occurs when PDF documents are generated directly from some other application.

There are many solutions to this problem, but I want to offer one that I find to be fast and reliable.  You could just print and scan the document causing problems, but for large documents, this defeats the size advantage of generating directly on your system.  For a very large document the scanning solution is a poor alternative.  A suitable option would digitally transform the document to eliminate the "code" in the PDF (probably some javascript) but keep the document size reasonable.

The solution: use Microsoft's XPS Document Writer.  The Microsoft XPS Document Writer (MXDW) is a print-to-file driver that enables any application to create XML Paper Specification (XPS) Document files on versions of Windows staring with Windows XP SP2.  If you are interested, information about the specification can be found here.

You should have an XPS Document Writer printer driver on your Windows system if you are using anything later than Windows XP SP2.  If you do not, you can get it here.  You will also need software capable of converting from XPS format to PDF format.  Acrobat software can do this, but I don't know what other PDF creation software can do the trick.  The steps to "fix" the problematic PDF are:

  1. Open the problematic PDF in Acrobat.
  2. Print the document by choosing "Print" from the "File" menu.   In the print dialog box, choose “Microsoft XPS Document Writer” as your printer.  If you don't have the printer in your choices, install the XPS Essentials Pack linked above.
  3. When prompted, save the document.  This is a process similar to “printing” to the Acrobat printer.
  4. Close the document in Acrobat.
  5. Open the XPS file you just created in Acrobat.  In the open file dialog, you may need to tell Acrobat to show “all files,” not just PDF files.
  6. Acrobat will convert the XPS file and display it.
  7. Choose Save As and save the converted document.  It will be a PDF, but the "code" and hyperlinks will have been stripped out.

Fixed.  I'm going to start offering tips to fix other stuff, especially in Word.  If you like tips like this, watch for the "How-to" label or Tag.