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Adobe Acrobat, PDF Get Flash Support

Adobe unveiled Acrobat 9, Acrobat Reader 9, a new suite of services called Acrobat.com, and extensions to PDF that support interactive Flash content.

Adobe pulled back the covers on several product upgrades Monday that aim to push Adobe further into the Web 2.0 world of online collaboration and productivity, and turn the Portable Document Format from a stodgy, static document format into something more interactive and collaborative.

Adobe unveiled Acrobat 9, Acrobat Reader 9, a new suite of services called Acrobat.com, and extensions to PDF that allow those creating and viewing PDF documents to embed and view interactive Flash content and collaborate on navigation through PDF forms. It's all part of a larger Adobe initiative to become a stronger force in collaboration and productivity. According to Adobe, the Acrobat 9 family of products will be available in July, while Acrobat.com services are available in beta today.

Acrobat.com is a suite of hosted services that includes the My Files file storage service, the Share file sharing service, Web conferencing with Adobe ConnectNow, word processing with Adobe's recently acquired Buzzword, and file conversion with Create PDF. It could be seen as a landmark on Adobe's journey to create a collaborative productivity suite for businesses.

"Acrobat.com is a step forward in furthering Adobe's goal to enable businesses who need to communicate and collaborate quickly," Erik Larson, Adobe director of product management, said in an e-mail.

It's unclear how well Acrobat.com will be received by businesses, many of whom rely on more established suites and products like Microsoft Office, Cisco WebEx, and others for many of the same capabilities. But Adobe is going after that market with other emerging Web-based competitors like Google. The same holds true of Adobe's extension of PDF to include Flash support, as many of the new capabilities the company trumpets -- video and audio, for example -- are readily available elsewhere.

Acrobat's new Flash capability allows people creating PDF files to wrap multiple Flash items and documents together into a single compressed PDF file called a PDF Portfolio. With Flash enabled in Acrobat, users will be able to include and use video, audio, and interactive animated content inside PDF documents. Flash content, such as an interactive table or a Flash-based calculator widget, might help readers understand and fill out forms.

Though PDF and Acrobat Reader have become synonymous with documents, Adobe sees a powerful potential in adding multimedia to the mix. "Video and audio have become ubiquitous on the Web, and our customers are becoming increasingly interested in and comfortable with using those content types," Adobe director of product management Rick Brown said in an e-mail. For example, a sales team might include video in a sales proposal or real estate agents could embed virtual tours in a listing.

Adobe's new extensions take its version of PDF above and beyond the now-standardized version of PDF. That means that, at least for the time being, other applications developed to read and manipulate PDF won't have the same Flash capabilities as Acrobat Reader, thus giving Adobe a competitive edge if Flash use takes off in PDF documents. According to Brown, Adobe intends to provide the International Organization for Standardization with details of its extensions when ISO takes over the evolution of PDF.

The new version of Acrobat allows users to collaboratively navigate PDF documents via Acrobat.com. A new panel in Acrobat and Acrobat Reader allows users to see who else is looking at a document and gives users the capability to, for example, move to page 12 of a document, zoom in at 150%, and have the other users see that navigation, all in real time. Users can also launch an Adobe Connect Now Web conference directly from the PDF. Guided navigation may only be the start of collaboration features for PDF documents -- Brown said only that these are the features in the service "right now."

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