Faced with a growing number of competitors in the electronic document delivery space, Adobe—the granddaddy of digital delivery—will strive to set itself apart from the pack with the release of Acrobat 6.0. The next generation of the Acrobat family will continue to offer the ubiquitous free reader, but the spectrum of tools in the family will address targeted customer segments and focus on collaboration and the bond between XML and PDF.
In a recent Adobe SEC filing, Adobe outlined its perceived competition in the electronic document space: "As we broaden the scope of our ePaper products and solutions, we face increased competition from entrenched office applications, PDF-based clones of our Acrobat product, electronic forms solution providers, emerging products/technologies, and potentially, enterprise collaboration system providers. Additionally, current office applications and content creation/management tools that use HTML, Macromedia Flash, Microsoft Word, Tagged Information File Format ("TIFF"), and various XML-based formats for electronic document distribution provide alternate solutions to customers, and indirectly compete with Adobe's ePaper products and the use of Adobe PDF."
According to Rick Brown, senior product manager of Adobe's ePaper group, "Adobe has already expanded with solutions and servers. We are now looking at specific customers and job functions where pain-points exist." He says that Adobe has found that people use PDF as "part of the process" rather than just to deliver an end-product. And, with 6.0, Adobe has refocused on facilitating PDF's role in business, engineering, and creative workflows.
Brown says, "Adobe is really looking at a major enterprise problem: on one end, you have back-end applications—ERP, CRM— that aren't connected to the people. We think there's a way to connect them through electronic documents." The company plans to help make this connection through collaborative tools and by leveraging XML. On the marriage of XML and PDF, Brown says, "we're increasingly investing in PDF's ability to be a document container for metadata, XML data for forms, and other arbitrary data."
The Acrobat 6.0 Family will be offered in four tiers: Adobe Reader, free software that allows users to view and print PDF files as well as Photoshop Album Slide Shows and eCards; Acrobat Elements, the volume-license edition, which helps business users more easily convert documents into PDF files (it's as easy as right-clicking from Microsoft Office applications); Acrobat Standard, which allows Windows user to convert and combine images and documents including Web sites, into PDF files from the entire Microsoft Office Suite; and at the head of the family, Acrobat Professional.
In addition to improved searching and metadata, the latest edition provides vastly improved compression—up to 80% file-size reduction—which can be accessed through the File menu. With Professional, Adobe also offers a PDF Optimizer, which guides a user through an advanced creation and compression process. Professional is targeted at engineers and creative professionals, who have very specific requirements that many general business users wouldn't require. It integrates with many of the formats these professions use, like CAD, preflighting, and various databases.
Along with its PDF functionality, Acrobat Professional features improved collaboration tools, including more efficient methods for comment integration. Marketing manager Wendy Kotila says that with 6, "we've made the comment and review tools easy to use." This version, according to Kotila, "Leverages email as the foremost collaborative tool." Tying in collaboration and file-size issues, Kotila explains that, "When you receive a partner's responses via email, you are only emailed the comment and changes, resulting in a very small file size. Thus, you don't get cumulative masses of PDFs clogging your email."
Recognizing that the vast numbers of enterprise users will create files with Word, but may use PDF as an email/collaboration method, this version incorporates a tracking feature that allows users to view all of the comments, accept and reject them, and provides a comment summary report. Then, comments collected through PDF can be imported into a Word XP file.
According to Brown, Adobe will continue to deliver "reliable document exchange, which is the fundamental value proposition of Adobe." But with this generation of the Acrobat Family, Adobe will be looking to set itself apart from other digital delivery options by extending its reach into the enterprise collaboration and creation marketplace.