8 new and improved features of Acrobat X

Adobe's latest refresh of their PDF creator/editor, Acrobat X (version 10), is available in three formats: Standard, Pro and Suite. We reviewed the Pro version. The standard version has fewer features, and the Suite is the Pro version bundled with Photoshop.

UI shifts to the right

The GUI of Acrobat X Pro now includes a pane that you can open along the right side of your PDF document. There are three pane categories: Tools, Comment and Share. The Tools Pane gives you a way to manipulate every aspect of your PDF, such as letting you quickly select the proper tools to edit the document's text or graphics, delete or insert pages, or set its security protection.

The Comment Pane contains marking and drawing tools to annotate a document, and lists any comments left by you or others who have looked over it.

The Share Pane makes it easy for you to send the displayed PDF to another person by e-mail, or to upload it to Adobe's online file storage and sharing service, SendNow.

We found the addition of these panes greatly improves the usability of Acrobat X Pro. They made it easier to find the tools and functions we needed to access to edit, secure and distribute PDF documents. Everything is laid out and categorized clearly.

Action Wizard to the rescue

Acrobat X Pro now includes the "Action Wizard," which is Adobe's friendly name for the application's new tool for letting you create macros to automate certain tasks you want done to your PDF documents. Say you have a whole lot of PDFs that must be purged of their comments and, after this, you also need the resulting PDFs converted to JPG images. You can create a script (AKA "Action") with the Action Wizard to automatically do this, whenever you invoke it, so you won't have to go through doing these steps to each document separately.

The Action Wizard tool is surprisingly robust -- almost every conceivable adjustment you might want to do to multiple PDF documents can be automated (for example delete pages, attach files, add/remove watermarks, add encryption, and even sending them to a printer). The input files can be PDF documents, a graphic file, or directly come from a scanner.

Tasks for an Action are listed in descending sequential order of when they will be executed. We like how intuitive it is to change the running order of these tasks by simply clicking on a task and dragging it to another spot on the list.

How strong is my password?

Now when you apply a password to a PDF document, Acrobat X Pro includes a ratings system telling you how tough the password you chose will be for someone to guess or break. The range goes from Weak, Medium, Strong and Best.

This isn't a ground-breaking feature; there are free programs and Web sites that will test the strength of your passwords. But it is convenient to have it built into Acrobat X Pro that automatically rates your password as you apply encryption. You can assign two separate passwords to a document: one requiring the user to enter in order to read the PDF, and another to edit or print it.

Scanning and optical character recognition (OCR)

Acrobat X Pro features enhancements to its scanning and OCR technology. It can automatically recognize if a page is in color, grayscale, or primarily solid black-on-white, and, thus, scan the page appropriately to preserve its original look.

More impressive is the improved optical character recognition. Switched on by default, the OCR software has been improved to the point that you can search for most of the text contained within a document scanned by Acrobat X Pro.

Scrub and sanitize

Acrobat X Pro includes improved redaction -- used to remove the names of people or other information for reasons of confidentiality. The enhanced Find & Remove Text tool can now search for text throughout your document and apply redaction marks to them.

A new feature, Sanitize Document, lets you quickly cleanse a PDF of hidden information (including attached files, bookmarks, hidden comments and JavaScript) with a single click.

Select and export

By using the Selection Tool to mark a rectangular border around content in a PDF (like a block of text or table) and right-clicking, you can export the marked-off area as a Word or Excel document. The formatting of this exported content should be preserved and you'll be able to edit the text or numbers.

We found this feature worked well when the files were opened with the latest Microsoft Office 2010, but some of the formatting (including text styles and colors) would be lost if the exported documents were loaded into other programs like OpenOffice.org. (You can also export to other formats -- such as HTML, Rich Text Format or XML -- though formatting may not be preserved.)

Adobe Reader users can join in

If you need people to take part in reviewing a PDF document, but they don't have their own copies of Acrobat X installed on their systems, you can allow them to do so through Adobe Reader.

Users of Adobe Reader can be granted levels of permission, by another person who controls the original document through Acrobat X Pro, to comment on a PDF file, access its sticky notes, and even control its security. Since Adobe Reader is free to download and use, this new feature is both a time and money saver when you need to share documents with others to get their feedback.

PDF portfolios

We found ourselves tinkering with this new feature the most -- and having fun with it.

You can create an interactive portfolio that presents your PDF files, other documents, and media files (pictures, audio and video) in an animated menu, where users scroll through thumbnails of these elements, and can click on them to read or experience.

Acrobat X Pro comes with five pre-built templates. One arranges thumbnails of your documents and files along the bottom, and others in a grid or scattered layout. We took a liking to the "Wave" template. It scrolls through the thumbnails in a wavy motion.

The background, colors and font of these templates can be customized to your liking, and you can create your own portfolio templates from scratch, or import ones made by others.

The obvious business use for this would be to create proposals that include charts, pictures, concept art and video clips. But we found this feature could also be used to create personal, fun PDFs filled with multimedia -- like family albums, scrapbooks, and picture books.

Howard Wen reports on technology news, trends and products as a frequent contributor to Network World and Computerworld .