Fresh out of testing, Acrobat.com is Adobe’s entry into the emerging world of web-based software as service solutions. On the future tech radar for many years, software as a service offers providers and users some advantages, not least the opportunity to securely stash key documents “in the cloud”.
Mobile Me, Google Apps and now Acrobat.com together represent a growing move among the world’s biggest developers to offer online services. Advantages for developers include reduced sales costs because boxed software production isn’t required. Users benefit from ubiquity and the chance to collaborate on documents/projects with ease.
Acrobat.com offers free access to web conferencing, online word processing, PDF conversion and file sharing tools in the form of Buzzword (beta), Adobe ConnectNow, Create PDF, Share and My Files applications. Adobe’s online service lets you store up to 5GB of files, which you can share with others extremely easily without sending large files by email.
Based on Adobe Flash technology, the application interfaces are nicely designed – rather more impressive to use than Google Apps, in our opinion. Tools and functions are clearly marked and easy to access, and, unlike Microsoft Office, the available tools are those you’re likely to use, rather than seeing common operations hidden among uncommon ones in sundry Menu items.
Strangely, the suite doesn’t include one-stop access to Photoshop.com, Adobe’s online image sharing, editing and hosting solution. We’re not sure why this requires a separate account, as it would surely make sense to dovetail the two sets of services together in a more elegant and user-friendly way.
One slight niggle when using the service is that once you launch an application such as Buzzword or ConnectNow, you find yourself stuck in the online application with no clearly visible shortcut to return you to the main page. Speaking of the applications, let’s take a look at them.
A slick, effective word processor, Buzzword offers all the basic word processing tools you’ll use, with access to seven fonts plus font colour, size, and basic bold/italics controls. There are tools to insert tables, paragraph breaks and comment tools for collaboration, a live word count, a zoom tool and more, including an effective and resizeable capacity to insert images.
Text entry is fast and immediate – it’s just as instant as using a desktop word processor. And because you aren’t struggling with loads of unused tools and features it’s easy to find the tools you want in the uncluttered interface. You can also export documents in numerous formats and share your work publically if you wish. One niggle, though, is that files saved in Buzzword don’t seem to appear within the MyFiles application.
The free version of Acrobat.com limits your online meetings to just three participants, but the paid-for versions increase the number of supported guests. Setting up a conference is very easy – you just enter the email address of those you want to talk to, they click on the link supplied and they’re in.
You can even initiate video chat using your Mac’s iSight camera. And guests don’t need to waste time registering to use Acrobat.com; they can simply join in. During a meeting you can share your desktop, an application, collaborative notes and more. It’s a very effective and easy-to-use collaboration tool.
Create PDF, Share, and My Files
Selecting any of these takes you to the same application, which lets you upload, share and create PDFs (up to five per month in the free version) from files you have uploaded to or created using Acrobat.com. There are file-organisation tools, excellent sharing tools, and more. It’s an effective service, but like ConnectNow and Buzzword there’s no way to return to the entry page once you’re within the application.
Along with the free version, there are two fee-based versions of Acrobat.com (currently not available in the UK, but should be soon): Premium Basic ($14.99 per month) and Premium Plus ($39 per month). Basic offers up to 10 PDF conversions each month and five participants at web meetings. The Plus package offers unlimited PDF conversions and lets you host web meetings with up to 20 participants.
A promising suite that offers a free and fast alternative to Office for most users, with added collaborative tools that should suit the needs of many at home or in business. The fee-based services don’t yet seem to offer enough to justify the cost, but we expect future improvements at Acrobat.com