The new PDF Portfolios feature in Acrobat 9 lets users drag and drop content into a PDF bundle. Myriad layout and presentation options include a flip-through view similar to Apple's Cover Flow for the iPhone. Adobe also tried to make it easier for companies using Pro and Pro Extended to make pages match visually with themes and custom logos, and it improved tools for comparing documents. We created PDF Portfolios without a snag in some experiments. Unfortunately, in a couple of cases Acrobat wouldn't let us add some Flash movies, and it didn't offer a solid explanation.
Acrobat 9 also will take snapshots of Web pages and convert entire pages or chunks of them to a PDF that preserves links and animation. We were able to use this in Internet Explorer, but the command described by Adobe seemed to be missing from Firefox 2 or 3.
Mapping features only in Acrobat Pro Extended 9 preserve geospatial coordinates and enable users to mark locations and measure distances. In addition, architects and other designers using CAD software can embed 3D models within PDFs. These creative options are cool for professionals, but we wish you didn't need to pay $699 to use them. At least you can view the dynamic content, once Pro Extended users drop it into a PDF, within Acrobat Reader 9.
For creating online forms, Acrobat 9 adds intelligence to recognize content for conversion to fillable fields. Potentially delighting conference planners, a forms-tracking dashboard will show, for example, the status of responses to a mass party invitation e-mail and let a user send reminders to guests. Responses can be sorted, filtered, and exported to spreadsheets.
Acrobat 9's security enhancements enable users to add 256-bit encryption, which online banks use, for PDFs. Locking down PDFs can't get much more thorough, given the digital signatures and metadata removal also available. New comparison features, not in Acrobat Standard, highlight the edits between versions of a document. Redaction tools in the Pro editions, a key selling point of Acrobat 8, will offer searches for numeric patterns in addition to multiple words and phrases. A company could, for example, find every accidental mention of a Social Security number or top-secret product being developed and black out the potential leaks from a PDF with one blow.
Service and support
Adobe's Web site support pages include Flash tutorials, user forums, FAQs, and a searchable knowledge base. These resources are well-organized and thorough. However, Adobe's four support plans, from Bronze to Platinum, are costly. Installation help by phone is available only via a toll telephone number, for instance. You'll need to sign in to get customized help online.
As with Acrobat 8.1, Adobe Acrobat 9 offers myriad features that the average consumer seeking to create a basic, print-ready PDF won't need. However, we find this update of Acrobat to be the most important in recent years for business users as well as interactive designers. The metadata removal, 256-bit encryption, and ease of redactions alone easily could justify the purchase for, say, a law firm. Those who specialize in making presentations with moving images and sounds will find plenty of options at their fingertips, especially given the integration with Adobe Creative Suite 3.3.
Adobe has laid the groundwork for rich PDF documents, although some of the coolest tools come at a premium. Could Acrobat Reader 9's support for Flash turn PDFs into a one-size-fits-all multimedia delivery venue? In the near future at least, we suspect that interactive PDFs won't necessarily sweep the Web. That's because only users of the paid software can make those singing, dancing documents, and only the Pro flavors convert multiple video formats to Flash. Although Acrobat.com has many free features, its PDF maker won't fold in video and animation. The application's cost may be a barrier for some emerging digital artists who might otherwise tinker with the dynamic tools.