REVIEW: Adobe Acrobat XI

The eleventh release of Adobe’s venerable PDF productivity suite, Acrobat XI delivers a raft of new and enhanced features, ranging from all new text and image editing tools to greater integration with online cloud services, both from Adobe and others. Forms creation is also simplified in the updated product, as is the process of electronically signing documents using the online EchoSign service, acquired by Adobe in 2011. Office support moves up a gear too, along with document security and a whole lot more.

Easy on the edit

Previous versions of Acrobat let you make minor modifications to text inside a PDF, but in this release you can now edit it just like you would in Word, using an all new point-and-click editing tool. It really is easy, with changed text automatically reflowing as you go, albeit only within the confines of the DTP-like frames in which it is placed. Images too can now be added, re-sized, rotated, cropped and so on directly, making life a lot easier for those tasked with maintaining documents on a regular basis.

You can even do a search and replace right inside a PDF rather than having to find and edit the original documents, then export back to PDF format. Should you still want to do that, however, Office integration is enhanced in Acrobat XI enabling Office users to both convert documents to PDF and create new PDF files from scratch, right from the ribbon toolbar. Exporting back into Office is similarly enhanced, with enhanced conversion of fonts, formatting and layout when exporting to Word or Excel, with the option now to convert just part of a PDF document to spreadsheet format, or even cut and paste it for extra speed if preferred.

Support for PowerPoint has also been added for the first time, enabling a PDF document to be exported to a fully editable presentation slide stack. More than that, the software can capture the layout, look and feel of a PDF and use it to create a PowerPoint template. Presentation plagiarists will have a field day!

The ability to work with Office 365 and SharePoint storage is another key feature of the release. Added to which it’s now possible to save PDFs online using Adobe’s Acrobat.com service with 5GB of space provided free when you sign up, making it easier to access and share documents using multiple devices, across locations.

Better for forms and more

The ability to create and process forms in Acrobat has long been something of a two-edged sword―useful, but not that easy to get to grips with. An issue that gets addressed in the XI release by a new standalone desktop app called FormsCentral which can be used to build forms from scratch or using ready-made templates.

Simple drag-and-drop tools in the FormsCentral app make building forms and controlling the logic behind them much easier, with the results saved as PDF for completion using the free Adobe Reader. Alternatively, it’s possible to publish forms on the Internet via Adobe’s online FormsCentral service, launched last year, with free and paid-for accounts available to allow this to happen.

Integration with the online FormsCentral service also enables responses to be collected electronically and so-called skip logic added, so people only see questions that apply to them. Payment options such as PayPal can also be included.

On the dotted line…

Adobe has long championed electronic signing of PDF documents but, just as with forms, has struggled to make the technology involved accessible. Something it is, similarly, looking to address in Acrobat XI with a mix of usability enhancements plus integration with yet another online service―Adobe EchoSign.

End result? Electronic signing becomes a deal simpler in Acrobat XI plus, using EchoSign, you can ask others to sign documents and track the signing process with, again, free and more extensive paid for subscriptions available for those wanting to use this service.

Document security too comes in for a lot of attention in Acrobat XI. Office users, for example, can click on a new Protect PDF box to quickly apply reading and publishing restrictions while in Acrobat itself there’s a new Restrict Editing tool which brings up a Password dialogue complete with a visual strength indicator. Added to which it’s easier to redact (black out) content, and strip out hidden information and metadata that you wouldn’t want anyone to see using a new Sanitize Document tool.

XI facts and figures

Already a very comprehensive suite of PDF tools, this new Acrobat release further boosts what the package can do while, at the same time, switching the emphasis away from pure document creation towards managing workflows.

Customers looking for such facilities will find it a worthwhile upgrade, as will professionals needing to create and manage PDF documents as part of their daily work. Others, however, may be put off by the price and complexity of the product, especially with basic PDF creation and conversion tools now included as standard in Microsoft Office and due for further enhancement in Office 2013.

Acrobat XI can be had in either Pro or Standard format, the full Pro edition selling at £378 (ex. VAT) while the Standard edition, which lacks the FormsCentral app. PowerPoint conversion and other bells and whistles, is £235 (ex. VAT). Upgrades for existing users are also available, for £163 and £110 (ex. VAT) respectively, and there is also a Pro edition for the Mac, plus volume and educational offers.

Adobe Creative Cloud subscribers will get the core software automatically, but will need to sign up for FormsCentral and EchoSign separately to access these services.

Outside of the core Acrobat package the XI edition of the free Adobe Reader will add the ability to access documents from the cloud and cope with simple signature handling via the EchoSign service. Touch optimised mobile implementations are also promised for iOS and Android platforms, although betas have yet to be released and whether the XI mobile reader apps will be available when the product ships at the end of October 2012 remains to be seen.