After slogging away for several years, Adobe Acrobat is now the undisputed standard for electronic document production, whether on the. Web, via CD-ROM, or in print publishing. Version 4.0’s new interface masks a variety of moderate improvements. Few have a “Wow!” factor, but some will make your life a little easier.
The biggest change is under the skin: Acrobat 4.0 uses a new version of the Portable Document Format (PDF) that’s based on the PostScript 3 language. This will have little effect on most users, but it should be a boon in prepress operations as PostScript 3 output devices come to be used more widely.
The most visible effect of the new PostScript 3 engine is the new Prepress Options dialogue box, which lets you implement colour trapping when producing film. You can also preserve the original CMYK values in a PDF file, bypassing any modifications made by colour-management software installed in your system.
Experienced users will see a revised interface that alters most menus and keyboard shortcuts, part of Adobe’s long-standing effort to impose a similar look-and-feel in each of its programs. Expect to lose time getting used to this.
Fortunately, Acrobat’s revised interface doesn’t usually get in the way. Our biggest problem was figuring out how to create thumbnail previews of images, which in Acrobat 3 was an option in the main menu. In version 4.0, you access the feature through an easily overlooked palette menu in the Thumbnails pane or by control-clicking on the same pane. Control-clicking is an action few Macintosh users have adopted, unlike savvy Windows users.
Some features have been renamed but are otherwise the same: Notes are now Annotations, and the Scan OCR function, for converting scanned documents to editable text files, is now Paper Capture. Acrobat Exchange, the core application in the package, is now simply Acrobat.
Beyond these changes, Acrobat 4.0 feels like a minor upgrade. There are many nice touches, but you won’t find any “must-have” additions, but several moderate enhancements stand out.
One of the most powerful features of Acrobat technology is its ability to simulate the appearance of fonts that are not installed in your system. If the PDF document includes Gill Sans but that font is not on your Mac, Acrobat can still display a reasonably good approximation.
Acrobat Distiller 4.0 also makes it easier to create PDF files for specific purposes by adding canned settings optimized for screen display, printer output, and prepress output. You simply pick the setting from a pop-up menu, and the program generates a PDF file with the appropriate options. You can also create your own settings and associate them with a folder so any documents dropped in automatically convert to PDF files. That’s handy.
When editing text, you can now change the font and type size, although you’re still limited to working on one line of text at a time. You can also edit embedded bitmap and EPS files by double-clicking on them; Acrobat launches an apt program, such as Photoshop or Illustrator.
Despite the improvements, there are some flaws. For example, the ability to renumber pages would seem handy when you’re merging several PDF documents. Unfortunately, these page numbers display only within the Thumbnails view, not on the actual pages.
You can also use non-Arabic numerals – such as i, ii, and iii – to number pages in the table of contents or in other front or back material. However, you can’t print pages numbered in this manner unless you print the entire document. Acrobat’s Fit Text To Selection option, a good idea introduced in Acrobat 3.0, still works awkwardly. This feature squeezes or stretches revised text to fill the space of the original text. But you must select this option before entering text – you can’t use it once you’ve started typing, even if replacing an entire line.
Acrobat 4.0’s biggest flaw is what’s lacking: the Windows version includes several useful features that aren’t currently available for the Mac, including the ability to import Web pages. Adobe says it plans to offer these features to Macintosh users as free plug-ins, most likely beginning with the Web-capture utility.
Acrobat’s price – £159 for a new copy and £59 for an upgrade – means its easy for most users to upgrade, even given its moderate enhancements. If you’re a Web, CD-ROM, or print publisher using Acrobat files, there’s no compelling reason not to upgrade.
And if you’re happy with Acrobat 3.0, there’s little reason to jump quickly to version 4.0, at least not until the Mac version adds what Windows users are getting.
Take your time, since the gratification in making the switch is not tremendous