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Wednesday, May 28, 2008, 07:00 am PT (10:00 am ET)

An inside look: Adobe's upcoming Acrobat 9 Pro for Mac

On June 2 Adobe will announce Acrobat 9. In this exclusive preview, a seasoned Acrobat user takes a look at what features Adobe claims are fresh in the release, what has really changed, and whether the new version is worth the price of upgrading.

What's New in Acrobat 9

The short answer: surprisingly little. Adobe has renamed some features that have been around for quite some time, added a few enhancements to existing features, and baked in other features previously available from third party developers. Overall, my initial impressions are that Acrobat 9 falls far short of groundbreaking.

While Adobe lists many features as "new", most of them are little more than existing features in a new wrapper, or features you could buy from third-party developers as plug-ins to Acrobat. Here's a comprehensive list of what Adobe is touting as new along with my take on it:

PDF portfolios

This renamed feature was called Packages in previous versions of Acrobat. It does have an updated interface, and some splashy graphics allow you to cycle through the various PDF files that are housed inside of the PDF portfolio. You can change color schemes, so the portfolios can be more customized and look more visually appealing. The core functionality of merging together multiple PDF files remains unchanged from previous versions.

Adobe Acrobat 9


Adobe Acrobat 9


Adobe Acrobat 9


Convert paper documents to PDF

This feature has been around since version 3 of Acrobat, so there is nothing new here except a new engine powering the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) of scanned text, which can help make scanned PDF searchable.

Adobe Acrobat 9


Convert web pages to PDF

Another long-time feature that has been around for more than a decade. It never worked very well, so if they've finally gotten it to function correctly, it's difficult to justify charging users to upgrade.

Compare PDF documents

Another feature that surfaced way-back-when, is also being listed as new. The only thing new about this feature is that it now sports a wizard to walk you through the process, and the end-product report showing what has changed has been updated slightly.

Search across multiple PDFs

While the interface is slightly modified, search capabilities are basically unchanged from version 8 to version 9.

Use Acrobat.com for shared reviews

Acrobat 9 adds the capability to use Adobe's servers to facilitate the review of PDF files. You can upload the file to be reviewed to Acrobat.com, and then reviewers can download the file and add comments to it. This will be great for small business owners who need to facilitate reviews with users, but large business are unlikely to send their sensitive data to Adobe's servers for hosting.

Adobe Acrobat 9


This feature uses the same capabilities available now on Adobe's Share service, which will become fully functional when Acrobat 9 ships in June.

Collaborating in online meetings

Adobe will launch alongside a new version of Connect, which was previously known as Breeze under the Macromedia brand. ConnectNow is described by Adobe as "a personal web-conference tool, to conduct real-time meetings on your desktop."

This feature already exists in Acroabat 8, and except for the new name, it remains little more than Adobe's way of trying to nudge your into their Connect product, hoping you will use it instead of products such as LiveMeeting, WebEx or GotoMeeting.com.

Use Acrobat.com to upload and share large documents

This is a new feature, and lets you use Adobe's server in place of an FTP server. The cool thing is that it works from both the paid version of Acroabt and from the free Adobe Reader. Large business that are security sensitive may not like to share their files on Adobe's servers, but this will certainly be appealing to many smaller businesses.

Adobe Acrobat 9


Collaborate Live

A real-time review and chat session lets you share your document with others, once again using Adobe's servers to host the sharing.

Adobe Acrobat 9


Electronic forms

Acrobat 9 will also let you create PDF forms and convert scanned documents to PDF. Acrobat 8 already automatically recognizes form fields. As such, Adobe has simply updated the interface and made it a more refined step-by-step process to change the way forms are created.

Adobe Acrobat 9


Collect form data

You can now route your form data through Adobe's servers, making it easier to collect data from PDF forms that you have distributed. But, like many "new" features, this has been available for many years from a third-party software developer, Form Router. Adobe's implementation works only with PDF forms, while Form Router's lets you work with all types of forms such as HTML or Info Path. It's a great feature for small to mid-sized businesses, but large corporations are not likely to want their form data sitting on Adobe's servers.

Adobe Acrobat 9


On page 2 of 2: Track forms; Include Flash content in PDFs; Add comments to videos; Create interactive presentations; 3D; View and interact with PDF maps; Redaction; and Should you upgrade?