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Adobe Acrobat 6.0 Professional review: Adobe Acrobat 6.0 Professional

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MSRP: $449.00

The Good Simple buttons for PDF creation and e-mailing; updated interface; easy PDF creation of Web pages; support for layers in AutoCAD and Visio; new preflight tools.

The Bad Expensive for single users; doesn't support AutoCAD 2004; new features add complexity; work flow awkward in places.

The Bottom Line Adobe Acrobat 6.0 is an indispensable upgrade for any serious Acrobat user. But individual users should look for a cheaper option.

Visit for details.

8.3 Overall
  • Setup 7
  • Features 9
  • Performance 9
  • Support 8

Review summary

Adobe Acrobat 6.0 is one of those rare programs that includes something for nearly everyone. All users will appreciate the capability to create PDF documents simply by clicking a button in most Office applications, and Acrobat offers excellent new work-flow and commenting tools. Creative professionals get solid support for AutoCAD 2002 (but sadly, no support for layered documents in AutoCAD 2004) and Visio, and print pros benefit from new preflight tools and the ability to print color separations. Online researchers will enjoy one-click Web-page conversion to PDF, and that's just a short sampling. Even the free Adobe Reader (formerly Acrobat Reader) provides an updated interface for reading, completing forms, and digitally signing PDF documents. Under the hood, Adobe updated the Acrobat format to version 1.5, enhancing image and data compression and rich media embedding. It's a bit expensive for individual users (the least-expensive package is $299), who should consider a cheaper option such as the $49 Xelerate Software PowerPDF 2.0. We had only a few problems installing Adobe Acrobat 6.0. On one test computer, the setup program failed to uninstall Acrobat 5.0 after several tries, and it removed Acrobat 5.0 from the Add/Remove control panel. Adobe support reps said they hadn't encountered this problem before, but you may need to uninstall version 5.0 manually.

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Adobe completely updated Acrobat's interface, with detachable menus such as the Commenting toolbar, plus enhanced editing functionality and stamps. Acrobat 6.0 makes it easy to select files from different applications to create a composite. Here we see AutoCAD, Visio, Excel, Word, and JPEG files.

Beyond these bumps, Acrobat offers dramatically improved operation and interface. When installed, Acrobat adds a PDF creation button to most Microsoft Office programs (but no other office suites), supplementing the more familiar option to print to PDF via the print dialog. You can also create PDF files by right-clicking files in Windows Explorer, or you can select attachments in Outlook that Acrobat will automatically convert.

Adobe also completely redesigned the main Acrobat interface with detachable menus clustered by functions, such as Review And Comment, Create PDF, and Advanced Editing. A Help bar sits on the right for quick access--especially handy for beginners.

Some functions, such as aggregating several different document types into one PDF file, are now exceptionally simple. Just select the documents in their original formats (Excel, PowerPoint, Word, Visio, Project, AutoCAD, or image files in several formats) and Acrobat will load the original applications, produce the PDFs, then assemble them. Unfortunately, if you're creating layered PDFs, which contain multiple layers that viewers can toggle on and off with simple viewing controls, Acrobat isn't as smooth. For example, you can create a layered PDF file from AutoCAD and Visio only by using the PDF creation button--not from within Acrobat or when printing to PDF from within the program.

In addition, Acrobat's work flow process runs counter to most content-creation programs. For example, in Photoshop or Premiere, you load a file, edit, then render (save) to a file. With Acrobat, you choose your settings, then load the file, which Acrobat then converts to PDF. Then, you save your file. This could frustrate users who want to use Acrobat's new PDF optimization tools (more on that in the Features section) because, essentially, you must choose your encoding parameters twice and risk multiple compressions, which can degrade quality.
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Viewing layers in an AutoCAD 2002 drawing.

So, what can you do with Adobe Acrobat 6.0? Well, the functions vary by version, and there are three. Acrobat Elements, available only in quantities of 1,000 units or more, lets you create one-button PDFs from Excel, Word, and PowerPoint. Acrobat Standard ($299) includes the enhanced collaboration capabilities and one-button Web-page conversion from Internet Explorer. Acrobat Professional ($449) incorporates all these tools, plus layered PDF creation from AutoCAD and Visio, interactive forms creation, PDF optimization, and configurable preflight options licensed from Callas Software.

Several of Acrobat 6.0's new features are extraordinarily useful. For example, Acrobat 6.0 Standard offers much-improved document review capabilities: you can perform most edits directly into the underlying text, approve them, then export them back into Word. More importantly, Acrobat sets up an excellent document-review work flow that works with Outlook and other mail programs to track who has received the document and responded. To simplify editing, Acrobat transmits the PDF to the reviewers, who send back only their annotations. Acrobat then creates a compound document in which you can review all comments at once or individual comments by reviewer. With Word, you'd have to send everyone the same file, then compile the various changes.

If you're working in Internet Explorer, Acrobat 6.0 can quickly convert Web pages into PDF, creating either one composite file or separate files for each page. The PDF documents maintain most HTML links (though some JavaScript links may be lost), and it can also store rich media files such as Flash and animated GIFs.

Acrobat 6.0 Professional appeals to architects or power Visio users, too, because it can capture and present data in layers. Creating a layered PDF file from either application is simple: you load the file, click the Acrobat button, and follow simple prompts to select the layers to include in the PDF file.

Note, however, that you can't yet produce layered files from AutoCAD 2004, a seemingly relevant deficit we discovered, after hours of flailing, by calling technical support; Adobe should definitely make this clearer in its product info. You can produce flattened PDF files from AutoCAD 2004 using the older print-to-PDF technique, but you won't be able to create layered files until Adobe releases an update for AutoCAD 2004.
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JPEG2000 produced higher quality despite being 30 percent smaller than standard JPEG compression.

Our informal performance tests focused on three files, a 50MB TIF file, a 42-page document with multiple tables and grayscale images, and a 24-page document with eight full-color TIF images. We produced the TIF file to maximum compression and the text files at standard compression.

As the table shows, Acrobat 6 improves over the former version in both time and file efficiency. Xelerate performed reasonably with text files, but there were some artifacts in the high-resolution image.

Of course, file size isn't as important as quality when it comes to images. As you can see in Figure 5, Acrobat 6.0's JPEG2000 at maximum compression produced higher quality than JPEG despite being 30 percent smaller. At maximum quality, the images were virtually identical, despite a similar reduction in file size. Acrobat 6.0 is as fast as or faster than Acrobat 5.0, while producing much more compact files.

Warranty lengths at a glance
  Acrobat 5.0 (PDF 1.4) Acrobat 6.0 (PDF 1.5) Xelerate (PDF 1.4)
  Time (seconds) File size Time (seconds) File size Time (seconds) File size
TIF file (max compression) 42.28 850KB 41.55 589KB 67.2 4.5MB
Text with real-world images 34.67 511KB 22.33 358KB 18.9 507KB
Text with 8-bit charts 7.19 440KB 7.03 377KB 8.82 427MB
Adobe offers decent support for Acrobat 6.0. Registered users get free telephone support (although it's a toll call) for 90 days from the date of the first call, available Monday through Friday, 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT. We called with our AutoCAD 2004 problem on a Friday afternoon and spoke to a knowledgeable person within three minutes. Though he wasn't able to resolve our problem, he was able to point out quickly why it wasn't working.

Beyond this period, you'll have to pay for phone or e-mail support, but don't despair: Adobe's support site includes comprehensive product support databases and very active user forums.

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