Review: Adobe Acrobat XI Pro (with some comments on Adobe Reader)

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Provides: Ability to creates PDFs, providing for commenting, form creation, Portfolio creation, and secure document creation. Converts PDFs to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.
Format: DVD
Developer:
Adobe
Requirements: Mac OS X.6.4 +, Intel Mac, 1.2 Gigs of HD space, DVD Drive, Safari 4 or 5.
Processor Compatibility: Universal
Retail Price: $449 new, $199 upgrade. Subscription: $19.99/month for one year, or $29.99 month-to-month.
Availability: Out now. Those with the Creative Cloud can now access AXI, and will be available for the next cycle of the Creative Suites.
Version Reviewed
: 11.0

Acrobat XI has been released by Adobe, adding new capabilities and removing some strong features. Most significantly for Windows users, LiveCycle Designer has been completely dropped (it's still available but as a separate product) along with Acrobat Suites (unrelated to the Creative Suites). For everyone, there's been the removal of self-contained multimedia capabilities within Acrobat. Rather, Acrobat has shifted gears somewhat to focus on its core function: creating PDFs from more sources. It also adds better capabilities to export from Acrobat into Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. In addition, it is much easier to edit PDFs and to work with images within PDFs. And finally, after watching the Creative Suites provide workspaces for over 10 years, we now have workspaces within Acrobat, but alas, the interface...

There's no doubt that the UI change in Acrobat X was about as big a change I've seen since Apple went from System 9 to OS X. I doubt that there was any homage to Apple with Acrobat using "X" rather than 10, I tend to think that this was more as a way to say "Hey, this one is different!" While I did strongly appreciate the improvements in the capabilities of Acro-X, I was, and am still not, a big fan of the UI. Nonetheless, I have gotten used to it and knowing Acrobat as I do, it's here for a long time. So if you avoided Acrobat X because of the interface, you will be missing some of the benefits and strengths that both Acro-X and XI have brought.

By the way, XI is pronounced "eleven" not "ex-eye," at least according to Adobe.

Changes in the UI

There's not that much obvious change in the UI but there is considerable change in how you access the UI. Now, after years of watching the other Adobe applications function quite well with Workspaces, Acrobat finally has workspaces. That's the good news. The bad news is that the interface for workspaces is about as clunky as one could imagine. In these days of drag & drop, the Acrobat Workspace interface is strongly reminiscent of Apple's Font/DA mover that we had from around 20 years ago.

Be aware that Acrobat has two regions of customization: first there's the icons on the 1st and 2nd row on the top left. These can be turned on or off, most easily with a right-click in that region and select the one's you want on or off. Unfortunately there is no check mark next to ones that are showing so you really have no way to know if that is turned on or off until you select it and see if you get the results you want. Regardless, once you've set these icons, they stay until you manually change them again. There are no workspaces for these tools.

Alternatively there is the collection of tools in the upper right first row of icons as well as the Panels on the right hand side. These can all be customized and saved in workspaces. [As a side note, you'll see 7 of the 12 Panels on the right hand side. If you want to see more, there is a fly-out menu that lets you manually turn each of the panels on or off. However, there still is no option to "turn on all Panels" for those who want access to all Panels all the time. As it is, if you want to have access to all the panels you need to take a trip to this fly-out menu 5 times and manually select each of the Panels that do not appear. A strange gap in efficiency.]

Acro layout

To customize a new Tool set, you click on the drop-down menu labeled "Customize" where you can create a new tool set, edit a current tool set or "Manage" previously made tool sets. From the latter you can also edit previously made tool sets as well as export and import tool sets. This is a particularly powerful option for those who work in offices where you want all of the employees to be on the same page and have easy access to all the desired tools. One of the other added features in these Tool Sets is the ability to provide notes and instructions on the tools. I'll get back to this in a moment.

As stated, creation of Tool Sets will be a flash to the past if you've used the Mac since before OS X and remember the Font/DA Mover. Within the Font/DA Mover, you had to click on item and then click on arrows to relocate the order up or down. As shown below, the Customizing window lets you select items from the list on the left and if you click in the middle icon with the "up" arrow, it places that tool's icon in the top tool bar region. If you click on the "right" pointing arrow, Acrobat places that tool in the Panel region. However, be warned, if you move something into the Panel region before you've created a Panel (far right side top icon), a new panel will be created called "Untitled." I was unable to find any mechanism to change the name of the Untitled panel. The only option I had was to create a new Panel and move the tools into this new Panel. Moving icons can ONLY be done by clicking on the icon/tool and then clicking the Up or Down arrows. No dragging and dropping allowed. There is also a Trash Can for removal.

toolset customizing

As mentioned, you can provide instructions and information in the Tools Panel for each tool you feel needs more information. Ironically each instruction is not linked to the tool and if you move the tool up or down, you will then have to click on the instructions and move it up or down as needed. Also as mentioned, you can export these tool sets and send them to anyone who can then import them into their Acrobat Pro. Despite the dreadful retrograde interface, this has to be one of my most favorite new features in Acrobat. Hopefully one of these days they will bring it into the 21st century and add drag & drop capabilities.

customizing tools

Editing

One other big change in the UI: the Typewriter tool is gone. Well, not gone, but replaced and/or renamed. As users of this great tool know, when you receive (for example) a form that's never been turned into a form, the Typewriter tool lets you type wherever you please on the PDF. Simple select the Typewriter tool, click on the PDF where you want to type and let the fingers fly. It's been replaced by the "Add Text" tool. Perhaps a more descriptive name than before, it has both significantly more features but is somewhat more squirly to use.

Shown below, you can see when you click on a page after selecting the Add Text tool, all you see is a small blue-outlined box with 8 handles. As you type, the box may or may not extend horizontally but will most likely expand vertically. I've not been able to determine what fully controls this. Shown below, you can see the impressive range of typography tools available to the user.

As you move your cursor around this box, depending on what your cursor is over, the cursor will display an icon that lets you know you can move, rotate, expand horizontally, expand vertically, expand both, type more in the box, or start a new text box in a different location. Unfortunately, one of the squirrelly issues is that finding the right sweet spot to do what you want can be an issue. The sensitivity for where to place the cursor can be a bit spotty.

The big issue though is what you do when you finish typing. If you click off to the side, you start a new box. If you try to delete that box by tapping the Delete key, you're wasting your time since because until something has been typed in that box, it doesn't really exist. Once you work with The Add Text tool a bit and understand how it works, the Add Text tool is mostly a fine evolution of the Typewriter tool but in the very beginning, it can be frustrating.

One feature that would be very handy is a "Style" format so that when you are commenting in a PDF, you could have one style for (say) Comments, one for Editing, one for "whatever." Currently, you need to manually reset any changes differences you want from one to the other.

adding text

The Edit Text tool has also been removed and has been replaced by the Edit Text & Images tool. Most people think of a PDF as being unchangeable and for the most part, that's true. A lot of that comes from the fact that most people use Adobe Reader and for those users, alterations are not possible in any fashion. However, if one had Acrobat Pro, changing a PDF has been possible for some time and these tools are getting (mostly) better and better.

Probably the biggest improvement in editing text is that now when you click on the ET&I button (Edit Text & Images), all of the text is now displayed in a paragraph box(s). As you edit within that box, the text will wrap within that box as shown below.

There are, however, some limitations: first off, as you can see below, each text region receives its own box. Acrobat doesn't understand paragraph spacing so it doesn't try to understand or deal with that. As such, if your alterations cause the paragraphs to run over or too close to another paragraph, or if you delete text causing a gap to open up, it's up to you to deal with it by manually tweaking the positioning.

Be aware that Acrobat sees a page quite different than the standard viewer might and what it considers a paragraph but be different than the user. As such, Acrobat may occasionally see a paragraph within a paragraph, even if there's no noticeable reason for that conclusion. Unfortunately there is no real mechanism within Acrobat to fuse these strands into other paragraphs. You are pretty much on your own if this happens.

editing pdfs

Also, as shown below, if you do not have the font used by the page, Acrobat will substitute what it thinks may work. Again, you will probably have to examine your own fonts and see if you can find something that better matches the one used on the page. Lastly, unless your text has justified text, Acrobat does not assume that the rightmost edge of the widest paragraph is the rightmost edge for all paragraphs. As such, if after adding or removing text you feel that the paragraph widths will be best suited by dragging the rightmost edge in or out to better suit the looks of the page, you can do that. In the same regard, since Acrobat only stores the font for page viewing (not using) if a font was used with underlines, there may be issues because underlines are not an attribute of a font. You may get strange results when adding text amongst underlined text.

edit text

Be advised that one of the problems you may encounter is that not all PDFs are the same and some are not as good as others. This is because not all of the applications that create PDFs make them the same way and because of this any editing you do may not always work out well. While testing this I encountered one document where I'd click the text in front of one word but when I started typing, the text appeared in the word before the word I had clicked in front of.

While certainly not perfect, this is a major improvement with editing text as we had in the past. Adobe is certainly going in the right direction on Text Editing.

Image editing in itself has not added any significant additions but has made accessing the images significantly easier. Below you can see what you can access via a simple right-click as well as from the Content Editing Panel (The "Edit Using" option provides Photoshop (if you have it installed) or Illustrator for vector images (if you have it installed), and the option to select any other application you wish. Please note though that while you can swap any bit-mapped image into a PDF, you cannot swap a vector image into a PDF. A strange gap/artifact when you consider that a PDF is designed around vector capabilities.

image editing

Unfortunately there are a number of issues with editing vector images: If you created the document with Illustrator, save it as a PDF, then click on a single item in the PDF and open that single item in Illustrator and edit it (then save that and when back in Acrobat, you'll see the results of your alteration. However, if you have a PDF, open the whole page in Illustrator and then save that as a PDF, your editing capabilities will be strangely limited. Likewise, if you open a PDF that has a lot of vector images, you're ability to select vector items to edit may be significantly compromised. However, since you can very easily open a PDF in Illustrator in the first place, it probably makes more sense to simply open the PDF directly in Illustrator and bypass Acrobat all together.

In and Out

For a long long time, one could drag a JPEG or TIFF document onto the Acrobat icon in the Dock and it would automatically convert the document into a PDF (and do auto text-recognition as well if desired). Added to that capability is that now you can drag Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

At this point you might ask, what's the point? After all, it's very easy to simply go to Print a Word document, and in the Print dialog, select (from the PDF drop-down on the lower left corner) the Save as PDF (using Apple's PDF generator) or Save as Adobe PDF (using Acrobat's PDF generator). But if you were provided a dozen various documents and asked to make a single PDF out of all of them, than the above technique will get old soon.

Fortunately Acrobat XI has significantly beefed up its ability to combine multiple documents into a single PDF and as you see below (showing the list view), you can either manually drag files up or down to set order (or use the same Font/DA Mover technology as the tools panel). The files can be placed within this window either by dragging or by selecting separate files, folders or scans from a scanner, open documents, items on the clipboard, or web pages from the drop-down menu on the upper left. Files can be deleted as needed. If you are looking at the documents using the thumbnail view. you can zoom in or out as needed.

combining docs

The Options for the combined PDF are shown below. Note that each PDF can have it's own numbering as well as a bookmark, very handy. At this point you can also elect to save the files as a single PDF or as a Portfolio. Keep in mind that there were absolutely no enhancements to Portfolios in this build and since the Single PDF for these files was 745 KB while the Portfolio was 1.7 MB, I'm not all that sure that the use of Portfolios will continue.

combining options

The only grip I have with this system is if you look at the Options above, you can select a small, medium and large icon to represent your file size. At no point can you fine-tune how the compression and sizing are being set. This is surprisingly limited considering how much control you have when saving in every other aspect of saving PDFs from within Acrobat. Hopefully this will be expanded upon in future versions of Acrobat.

The exporting of PDFs into other document types has also been enhanced. Now you can save PDFs into PowerPoint documents (be afraid, be very afraid) but most importantly, you can also save PDFs into Word documents that are much better than anything we've had in the past.

Using the same technology that let's Acrobat see individual paragraphs when Editing text in a PDF, when exporting a PDF into a Word document, you will now find paragraphs of text as opposed to a carriage return at the end of every line of text (unless you ran the tagged document command before exporting).

Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, Acrobat doesn't know about Paragraph rules and if there's a gap between paragraphs, Acrobat will simply add a short paragraph rule between each paragraph as opposed to creating a Word's Paragraph Style to handle the gap. So, depending on how fussy you are, you may need to do some futzing with the document on a global basis to get it responding well as an obedient Word document.

Nonetheless, this is a substantial improvement from what we've had in the past.

What's been left out...

Despite all of the improvements in Acrobat, one of the big losses is the removal of the built-in Flash player within a PDF. So, if you try to see a PDF with RMA (Rich Media Annotations), you will probably get a message saying to the effect "Please install the correct Flash Player." This may seem strange since you already have a Flash Player on your computer, but do you have the correct Flash Player (as not all are the same). This will be a moment for confusion and/or frustration, I wish I had a simple solution for you but I do not.

The reasons for this are simple: Flash players are not allowed on Apple mobile devices and because of the significant virus potential threat they pose, Adobe has taken the safest route by simply eliminating the built-in Flash Player. A wise move albeit leaving users to flounder around during this transition.

As mentioned early on, the Windows copy of LiveCycle Designer has been removed. The extra complications of this include the issue that on a PC, you cannot have multiple versions of the same software on the same computer. Thus, you cannot have Acrobat X and Acrobat XI and this prevents you from using LC from X while at the same time using Acrobat Pro XI. However, note that if you upgrade to XI, you are entitled to a free update to the latest version of LiveCycle. If you are purchasing XI for the first time, you do not get this opportunity. [Note: LC Designer is not available to Creative Cloud Members.]

Forms

Continuing with Forms, new to both Windows and the Mac is Forms Central. This lets you create web based forms that can be placed in any website or Wordpress blog. On the other hand, you cannot create a PDF from a Forms Central form.

The issue is that Form Central is hosted by Forms Central (aka Adobe) and if you want to use these forms, you pay extra (starts at $14.99/month), depending on how many people will be accessing the form: the more people the greater the costs are. While this may be very economical for large businesses (relying upon easier accessing the data this provides), it's not necessarily realistic for small companies or individuals (but that of course depends upon the nature of the business or the person).

Besides Forms Central, in the middle of last year Adobe bought EchoSign to add instant contract signing to its portfolio. A wise move that (again) is great for businesses due to the costs involved (starts at $14.99/month), but less likely to be used by small businesses and individuals.

Fortunately creating Forms in Acrobat still remains as before and it has had a few minor improvements, but most of all, it's still free. But there has been a significant improvement: Since Acrobat 8, the person creating the Form in Acrobat Pro could set that form to allow users of Adobe Reader to do a Save As... and keep a copy of any changes they made. This was especially important if filling out a long form and being unable to finish until some later time. This allowed a saving of a semi-complete version till later. However, the ability to save out a semi- or completed version of a filled out form was entirely contingent upon the form creator to save the document as a "Reader Extended PDF." New with Acro XI, no special save is necessary, it's done internally automatically. And no less significant, this also applies to Commenting and Annotating PDFs via Adobe Reader.

[As a side comment, Adobe provides a paid service for Adobe Reader users to convert PDFs into Word, Excel, RTF, and do OCR conversions for $19.99/year or to create PDFs for $89.99/year.]

Please understand that since I've never used LiveCycle Designer, I cannot comment on what its removal means to Acrobat Pro uses and how it compares to Forms Central.

and a few extra Bits

I cannot do a review of Acrobat XI without commenting on the repair of something that was considerably broke with Acrobat X: the "Save as..." menu option.

In Acro-X, when you dragged down the File menu to Save as... and released the mouse, nothing happened. That is, unless you dragged down and then slid the mouse to the right to select Save as... again. I hated, this as well as many many other users. Someone from Adobe heard our screams (perhaps not to mention my threatening to dope slap the engineer who did this).

It's been fixed. Now you can slide down to Save as... release the mouse and you can now save the PDF with a different name or in a different format. If you know that you want to save into Word, there's a new option in the File menu called "Save as Other." Once again, redundancy is good.

I'm not an Action user, I do not do that many functions over and over that would benefit from an Action. Nonetheless, one of the new options in the Action Panel is the "Find More Online" This takes you to Acrobat.com where you can find Actions that other's have created and are there to download to use.

This of course is not the sum and substance of what's new in Acrobat XI but it does cover a lot of the changes.

Disappointingly, I find scrolling long complex documents frustrating. As you drag, the pages flicker and stick. I found scrolling in Adobe Reader XI to be better, but still the champion is Apple's Preview. However, do not try to process forms in Preview, you may find the results not only not satisfying, but potentially dangerous for the form.

[Please note I have not covered Microsoft SharePoint, features available to Office 365, or the various Security features because these are not available to Mac users.]

In short

This is a much better release for Mac users than PC users. At least insofar as Mac users didn't lose any features they've depended upon for years and years (read LiveCycle Designer). Newly added are Workspaces albeit done in a dreadful and cumbersome fashion. At least what was provided has important features such as the ability to save out Workspaces and share them with others. That's big for enterprise users. Similarly, the ability to export and share Actions is also a big feature for enterprise users.

Users of Microsoft products are also well supported, but I fear the public is in trouble with Acrobat's ability to save out PDFs as PowerPoint documents. [Warning to all PowerPoint users: every time the audience is reading the screen they are not listening to you. And if you are reading the screen they are not paying attention to anything you are doing.] However, the ability to simply dump a bunch of Word, Excel, and/or PowerPoint documents in Acrobats "Combine Files into a single PDF" is a significant improvement.

I wish Acrobat was faster. Scrolling a long complex document is not fun as it sticks and stammers. Since Adobe Reader scrolls faster, why not Acrobat?

There is a lot to like with this release, but goodness gracious, I do wish the Acrobat team would walk across the halls and see what the Creative Suite folks were doing. I find not only the interface strange and alien, but the things they do to make it function better are either strange and ancient (such as how Workspaces are created). When you match that with the interface for combining multiple files into a single PDF, doesn't even the Acrobat team talk with the Acrobat team?

I could go on but suffice it to say, if you are with the Creative Cloud, you might be enjoying the new release now, if you have the Perpetual license, you will have to wait until CS7, and if you have the standalone version, Acrobat XI has many things to beckon you.

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___________ Gary Coyne has been a scientific glassblower for over 30 years. He's been using Macs since 1985 (his first was a fat Mac) and has been writing reviews of Mac software and hardware since 1995.



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