Adobe is reinventing its venerable Acrobat software for the multimedia-heavy Web 2.0 age.
Targeted primarily at business users, Acrobat’s familiar PDF format has long allowed Net users to create and distribute forms, documents, and other publications that don’t translate well into ordinary Web pages.
Acrobat 9.0, which is slated for public release in July, will offer far more, allowing users to distribute slickly formatted presentation packages, complete with Flash-based video and animation. A related set of online collaboration tools is aimed at giving Adobe a foothold in the growing market for hosted Web applications.
“One of the long-standing virtues of PDF was the ability to have a reliable presentation regardless of the platform,” says Marion Melani, group marketing manager for Adobe’s Acrobat team. “We’re taking that history and extending it to include new mediums.”
A 15-year-old product, Acrobat’s transformation reflects the growing importance of multimedia, for businesses as well as for YouTube-savvy consumers. But it is also a nod to the burgeoning use of online document-sharing tools–a critical activity as work groups are spread increasingly across home offices and locations around the globe.
Acrobat’s strength has always been in allowing documents that need precise formatting–whether tax forms or artful magazine layouts–to be displayed, distributed, and printed as intended, rather than risking distortion in a Web browser. The last version also added support for computer-aided design (CAD) features, opening the format to wider use by product manufacturers.
This new version, the first to include support for Flash, steps beyond this document model. It offers users the ability to create “portfolios” of multiple files that can include video, audio, Web pages, manipulable 3-D objects, and even Flash-based applications in a single compressed package, all viewable inside the new Acrobat Reader software.
With a simple interface, reminiscent of the way that Apple’s iTunes displays album covers, portfolios will allow recipients to flip through each component, in an order determined by the author.
Adobe says that it expects the video and Flash-based features to resonate quickly with professionals who make complicated presentations, such as sales and marketing representatives, and even architects and attorneys creating multimedia legal briefs. Analysts note that video and Flash animations could also be helpful for demonstrating procedures in scientific journal articles, technical documentation, and financial reports.
“We’re seeing video used everywhere, even in context of technical documents or product brochures, as a way of telling a story,” says IDC analyst Melissa Webster. “These portfolios are a compelling way to integrate multiple files.”