By Pariah S. Burke Macworld.com | on December 15, 2010
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Pros: Professional presentation and distribution packages for PDF and other document types; Powerful document processing; Point-and-click macro system; Nearly perfect content export to Word and Excel; Reader X can now highlight and comment on PDF files by default
Cons: Menu commands and tools spread all over the application; Many features hidden behind easily missed customize button; Find box removed
Acrobat X Pro is an impressive release, with new features and improvements for anyone who creates or works with PDF files.
Acrobat, like many mature products targeting a wide range of users, suffers from feature bloat. There's something in it for nearly everyone, but unfortunately Adobe is still struggling to find the best way to provide users with quick discovery and easy access to every function.
The first thing you'll notice about Acrobat X Pro is, of course, its new user interface. Sadly, this streamlined interface is not an improvement. Instead of merely navigating through some 20 menus on the application bar and toolbars to find a particular function, as you did in Acrobat 9, you must now search through the application bar menus, the icon toolbars, and three sidebar-styled task panes loaded with vertically arrayed commands--nearly half of which are hidden by default.
Adding a watermark in a PDF used to mean choosing the Document -> Watermark -> Add... command. In Acrobat X, the command is now in the Tools task pane, in the Pages section, under the Edit Page Design section's Watermark menu. To send a PDF for either a shared or email review, you must remember that those commands are no longer in menus, but now in a section of the Comment task pane. That seems odd because I'd expect them to be in the Share pane.
On one hand, the task pane's commands look more intuitive than the copious menus of previous versions. And, Adobe has recognized that most of us now use widescreen monitors. On the other hand, not all commands are located within the three panes--at least, not without customizing the app, which many Acrobat users won't do. Some commands, like design mainstay Preflight, and the critical Accessibility Setup Assistant, now live only in the Edit menu -- an unlikely place.
Both commands -- and many more -- can be added to the Tools task pane by clicking the tiny button at the top of that window and enabling the display of the Print Production and Accessibility panes. The average Acrobat user probably won't know how to customize which sections show in the Tools pane, and consequently will be left poking around to find many commands integral to their workflows.
A new Quick Tools bar across the top of the Acrobat X window provides access to common commands. By default, Quick Tools includes buttons for creating, opening, saving, sharing, and printing PDFs, adding sticky notes and highlights, and inserting, deleting, and rotating pages. You can easily customize the Quick Tools bar to include nearly any command available in Acrobat.
I would like to see the Acrobat team take a cue from distant cousin Flash Professional and certain other Creative Suite apps by offering workspaces. Flash, for example, offers optimized workspaces for different types of users: Designers can easily access the controls and tools they use while keeping the programmer-centric features out of the way. Thus, instead of throwing the kitchen sink at every user -- or squirreling away features and commands in obscure places--the program should ask users at installation what they want to do with Acrobat.
Acrobat already contains copious wizards: What's one more to ascertain which features a user needs and automatically create an uncluttered, customized interface?
Document presentation packages
One of the most exciting improvements in the new Acrobat is the expanded and highly customizable PDF Portfolios feature. A PDF Portfolio distributes a set of electronic files--not only PDFs but any files--in a single package offering a professional, pleasing, optionally branded experience. You can send or simply present an entire proposal or presentation within a PDF Portfolio document, complete with native Excel spreadsheets, Word or Pages documents, PowerPoint or Keynote slides, HTML, images, video, audio, Flash content, and installable software.
A PDF Portfolio document resembles a ZIP archive, except that the recipient doesn't need to extract the constituent files in order to use them. The PDF Portfolio, once opened in Acrobat or Reader, provides a visual interface for viewing, editing, or extracting the included documents and media. The PDF Portfolio interface is highly customizable with engaging layouts, configurable themes and colors, and background images.