December 17, 2008

Acrobat 9 Adds Refinements, Greatly Improved Web Site Capture

A few months ago, Adobe released Acrobat version 9. I've wanted to blog about this for a while now, but also really wanted to use the software before posting to provide a realistic assessment. This time around, I've had the good fortune of trying both Acrobat 9 Professional and the new Extended version. Keep in mind this is the ninth version, so it's become quite a mature package by now. While there's not a huge number of new features, there are a number of subtle refinements throughout, which is a good thing. Unlike the jarring interface change from Acrobat 7 to Acrobat 8 that made users squirm to have to relearn it (though I greatly preferred 8's interface to 7's), this time around, Adobe kept the visual changes down to a minimum. So it's much easier to get your bearings quickly with version 9. Whether you need to upgrade really comes down to this: What is new can be helpful, depending on how you typically use Acrobat.

First off, the biggest noticeable change for me is that the web site PDF capture and conversion module actually works, for the first time since they added the feature several versions ago. It even captures Flash animations. I often bemoaned how poorly the prior versions performed, often missing collecting and packaging most of the graphics, instead adding x'ed out boxes as placeholders. Starting with version 9, whether you want to capture and convert a single web page or an entire site (including all the active interlinking of pages) to PDF, it actually does a very good job. There's a new "Select" button added in Internet Explorer's toolbar that lets you specify a particular region if desired. Alas, there's no such conversion button for Firefox, so you need to use IE for the time being. Here's hoping Adobe adds Firefox support in upcoming versions. While I wouldn't say the PDF web copies are exact bit-for-bit matches, they are a reasonable representation in many instances. I understand from Rick Borstein at Adobe that they incorporated a completely different web capture engine, and it shows. Bravo.

For those assembling and publishing PDF binders, the newly named "Portfolio" feature is really a refinement of the binder along its evolutionary scale. You can now choose to package a Portfolio with different graphics (think firm logo) and even select an interesting document flipping interface that's very reminiscent of flipping through album cover art on a newer iPod. Also, the Bates numbering features first seen in the prior version have been offered some minor refinements, such as renaming files to the Bates number range, and you can now create a log file for the Bates operations.

Document comparison that actually works has been a welcome theme in our office tools of late. With the release of Office 2007, Microsoft finally gave us a usable document comparison tool in Word 2007 (it really couldn't have gotten any worse) -- yet I wouldn't say it has all the bells or whistles either. Likewise, Adobe has also included a completely new document comparison engine in Acrobat 9 that provides more granularity. They've been listening to both legal and business professionals alike, who need to be able to rely upon decent comparison tools. Sure, there have been other commercial software packages available for document comparison for quite some time. However, depending on what you need to accomplish in your review process, you may be happy with one or both of these built-in tools (i.e., Word and Acrobat). If you already have a full-feature third party comparison tool, great, but if not, I'd say give both of these comparison tools a try first to see if either meets your needs.

Those of us concerned with embedded metadata will be happy to hear that the metadata removal features have been enhanced as well. From Adobe: "In recent years, legal professionals have become increasingly aware of the risk of accidental disclosures of confidential information in document metadata. While PDF is relatively benign compared to Microsoft Office documents, legal professionals require the equivalent of digital bleach -- the ability to easily find and remove document metadata. The enhanced Examine Document feature in Acrobat 9 ensures that documents are clean and safe to send. Acrobat 9 can remove metadata, hidden text, bookmarks, comments, and other potentially dangerous information from documents." More specifically, the Examine Document feature has the following improvements in Acrobat 9:

  1. Examine and remove hidden text, layers, and objects on a per item basis.
  2. Preview any type of metadata.
  3. Examine metadata from a convenient panel.
  4. Examine Document is now available via Batch Processing.
The Extended version adds the ability to import video and Flash. Another great use is publishing a PowerPoint presentation with embedded video or your voiceover all combined in a single PDF to bring it to life. Naturally, since these are new features, your intended audience will need to download and install the free Acrobat Reader 9 software to handle it.

There are a number of other refinements as well, including file splitting, enhanced forms and OCR, and a new online collaborative mode for dual remote viewing. There's also new document sharing at, but legal professionals will need to decide for themselves whether to post sensitive documents online. Give it a try with something innocuous first, but with version 9, it's clear that Acrobat has finally embraced the Internet.

For a balanced, in-depth review, I'll point you to Brett Burney's article on Also, Rick Borstein's Acrobat for Legal Professionals blog has a great post detailing all of these changes and more. Overall, Acrobat 9 Professional and Professional Extended seem to launch more quickly and seem more refined. Bottom line, those who are only using Acrobat 8 for the most basic use may not see much reason to upgrade to 9, but those who are responsible for creating and distributing more complex and professional-looking PDFs should definitely give it a try.

Topic(s):   Legal Technology
Posted by Jeff Beard