SHCC WYSIWYG Article from February 2001

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This article appeared in the February 2001 WYSIWYG newsletter.

Review of Adobe Acrobat 4.0

by Don VanSyckel

When I first set out to do this review I thought there won't be much to say about a piece of software that makes pictures from words.  Was I wrong, both about there not being much to say, and about what PDF's are.

Adobe Acrobat 4.0 is not Acrobat Reader.  Acrobat Reader is a viewer for PDF files.  Acrobat Reader is licensed software from Adobe, which can be freely distributed and is available for several platforms, and not just Windows.  Acrobat Reader can be downloaded from Adobe's and others' web sites as well as being included with countless installation disks from most software publishers.  The fact that Adobe gives away the reader is one of the reasons that strongly contributes to the usefulness of Acrobat 4.0.

First let's get some of the routine stuff out of the way.  Acrobat 4.0 comes in a standard sized box with not a lot in it.  There's the CD, a technical support pamphlet, and a getting started pamphlet.  As you might guess, once you have Acrobat loaded, you can use it to read the online documentation.  The system requirements for Acrobat are fairly general, i486 or Pentium processor based PC running Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows ME, Windows NT 4.0, or Windows 2000.  Acrobat needs 16 Mb RAM for 95, 98 and ME and 24 Mb RAM for NT and 2000.  To use the Paper Capture plug-in, 32 MB of RAM is required.  Acrobat can take up to 80 Mb of disk space, and since it's delivered on a CD, a CD-ROM drive.  Like Acrobat Reader, Acrobat is available for several platforms, and not just Windows.

Installation couldn't be simpler.  Put the CD in the drive and Windows' autorun starts the installation.  Agree to the software license, click the Acrobat install button, and sit back and wait a minute.  Registration can be done on-line or via snail mail.  I have installed Acrobat on a Windows NT 4.0 with service pack 6a system and a Windows 98 system.  Both are the same during the installation.  During the NT installation, the correct placement of the program folder is done in the 'all users' section.  The Acrobat installer is extremely well behaved, unlike many installers.

The most common use of Acrobat 4.0 is to print to it.  That's right, print to it.  Acrobat installs two 'printers' on your system, Acrobat PDFwriter and Acrobat Distiller.  When you have a document, spreadsheet, or whatever else is open, and you're ready to make it into a PDF file, print the document and select either of the two printers, Acrobat PDFwriter or Acrobat Distiller.  PDFwriter lets you convert simple documents like those from spreadsheets and word processing to PDFs.  Distiller can convert more complex documents to PDFs.  These could be from drawing, page-layout, or image-processing programs.

If you need to do more, start the program by clicking the icon.  If you hold the shift key, Acrobat will start without plug-ins.  More on plug-ins later.  Acrobat can produce, modify, and view PDF documents.  Some of the features you can do include giving PDF documents password protection, hypertext links, electronic bookmarks, media clips, and interactive forms.  Acrobat can also convert scanned documents into portable searchable PDF pages.  Acrobat has a straight forward mission, and it does it well and with ease.

One of the lesser used features of Acrobat is the ability to create forms.  Not just another PDF file, but a form with fields to enter data into.  As with the plain PDFs, forms can be sent out or placed on a web site to be downloaded.  You can create a form starting with a PDF created from a file or a scan, or you can create forms from scratch (almost) using Acrobat.  Just type the words of the form in your word processor and 'print' it to a PDF.  Then open the outputted file with Acrobat and put in all the lines, boxes, etc. you want.

Acrobat has a built-in update feature you can use if you are attached to the web.  It will ascertain what files, if any, are needed to update the current installation, download the files, and install them.  This process is painless and quick, based ob your web connectivity speed.

Why use Acrobat?  There are many good reasons.  Some of these are:

* You can distribute a document to anyone and they can open it.  They don't need the same software you used to create the document, the same printer (affects format of print out), or the same fonts.  (Pet peeve: the good news about Windows software is if your PC doesn't have fonts contained in a document, font substitution will automatically be made without bothering you.  The bad news is that Windows will substitute fonts and not inform you.)

* You can distribute your document and know that no one will change things in it here and there without your knowledge.  This can be a big advantage in certain situations, particularly in the work place.

* Even though you can set a document so the viewers can not modify it, the viewers can use collaboration tools to 'mark up' the document with modifications and/or suggestions.

* When anyone prints the document, it will print consistently with the proper margins and page breaks.

* Documents can be placed on the web and easily downloaded.

* A PDF page can be zoomed in on to allow the viewer to examine graphics or diagrams in more detail.

* Faster viewing of web documents.  Web viewing can be faster when the PDF file is optimized and the web server supports page-at-a-time downloading (byte-serving)

* Interactivity can be included in the files you distribute.  Hyperlinks (web page links), forms, and movies can be included.

The last item included is Acrobat Catalog.  This program can take a collection of PDF documents and create a full-text index.  This index can be used to search the collection using the search query tools in either Adobe Acrobat or Adobe Reader.  For instance, if you have a book where each chapter or section is a PDF file, Catalog can tie it all together with a comprehensive index of the entire collection of PDF files.  Also, links to the different files can be included for ease of navigation.

As mentioned before, plug-ins are pieces of software which work with Acrobat to add more functionality.  Plug-in can not be run alone, and can only be used by Acrobat.  Plug-ins are usually designed for a specific function or in support of a particular software package, such as Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, or Microsoft PowerPoint.  Reviewing the various plug-ins for Acrobat is beyond the scope of this review.

Adobe also had the book "Adobe Acrobat 4.0, Classroom in a Book" sent to accompany the Acrobat 4.0 software.  The book is available separately from Adobe (ISBN 0-201-70284-3).  The book is written in an easy to understand style and is divided into a quick tour and 15 lessons.  The lessons are:

1.Introducing Adobe Acrobat
2.Getting to know the work area
3.Creating PDF from authoring programs
4.Creating Navigational structures
5.Modifying PDF documents
6.Creating an online version of a book
7.Using Acrobat in a document review cycle
8.Creating forms
9.Adding buttons
10.Creating PDF documents from paper and the web
11.Building a searchable PDF library and catalog
12.Customizing PDF output quality
13.Distributing PDF documents
14.Adding page actions, movies, and sound to PDF files
15.Enhancing a multimedia project

Normally I would not simply list the chapter titles, but after reviewing them I thought in this case the titles represented a good description of the book.  The book also includes a CD containing files to be used while reading through each of the lessons.  All in all, this is a very good learning tool for anyone who wants to get the most from Acrobat 4.0.

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