Software Review: Hands on with Adobe Acrobat 9 Pro Extended: The ‘Swiss Army Knife’ of High-Tech 3-D Collaboration
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Software Review: Hands on with Adobe Acrobat 9 Pro Extended: The ‘Swiss Army Knife’ of High-Tech 3-D Collaboration

For me, this hands-on experience began earlier this year at the 3D Collaboration and Interoperability conference in Denver Colorado. That’s when I had my first peak at what is now Acrobat 9 Pro Extended. The Denver conference’s attendees had flown in from the world’s major manufacturing companies looking for a better way to securely coordinate their highly complex 3D collaboration. And, just in time, Adobe was about to release its comprehensive collaboration solution.


This multifaceted software includes all the tools and interconnectivity designers and managers need to pull together complex collaborative input from a global talent pool, and now that the software has passed through months of extensive beta testing and is on the shelves or ready for download, I expect it will play a central role in next year’s event.


Acrobat 9 Pro Extended allows dispersed design and development teams to collect and coordinate diverse content and coordinate multiple inputs into a single collaborative environment.


Built on the solid foundation of the Acrobat we’re all familiar with, the words ‘Extended’ and ‘Pro’ are what give this collaboration tool its power, and it is these new integrated features that I’ve evaluated and will share with you in this review.


At the top of Acrobat 9’s extended features is a stylistically customizable PDF Portfolio that can include multiple PDF and MS Office documents replete with embedded rich media such as video, audio, interactive 3D models and various Flash widgets that get the point across in a succinct and compelling way. It even allows users to embed links to web pages for more in-depth information. For instance, users can package a spread sheet showing cost analysis with a descriptive Word document that includes an interactive 3D model, with a PowerPoint presentation and then share it all interactively on the Web with a worldwide audience.

Creating a customized portfolio is both intuitive and straight forward, and it all starts with building the individual elements that will comprise the portfolio.


Once Acrobat Pro Extended is installed several Microsoft applications contain Adobe PDF action buttons and pull-down menus that allow users to embed rich media objects and then convert these documents into lightweight PDF format for inclusion in the portfolio.

Figure 1 – Acrobat PDF Action Buttons Shown in PowerPoint 2007

I decided to populate my test portfolio with a mix of editable MS apps and PDF docs to simulate how this tool is used in the real world.


Including 3D Models


When designers collaborate they ideally want to experience and share their 3D content in 360-degree format, and that’s exactly what Acrobat 9 Pro Extended delivers. You can optionally import a 3D model directly into Acrobat, or drop it into an MS document. When you bring it directly into Acrobat you have immediate control of the object and are able to perform such operations as full view rotation, changing its appearance from solid to, wireframe, transparency, illustration, or solid outline, adding measurements, sticky notes, lighting and all the other view manipulations you’d expect in a high-end 3D CAD viewer

Figure 2 – Embedded 3D Model with Editing Toolbar and Dimensioning

When importing a 3D model into MS documents these manipulation options are not available until you save the document into PDF format. But, the advantage here is that you are able to design and layout a very attractive page or presentation first, and then drop into an interactive and easily sharable format.


For additional flexibility, an included Adobe 3D Reviewer application can be launched that provides an independent workspace for making additional model adjustments in an editing environment. Once editing is complete you simply save the modified model back into your PDF document.


Figure 3 – Adobe 3D Reviewer - 3D Editing Tool

Including Video


With Acrobat 9 Pro Extended you can easily embed fully functional video into both MS and PDF documents. From within Acrobat you simply click the Multimedia pull down menu and select Flash tool, and in MS documents you use the Acrobat PDF Action Buttons shown in Figure 1. Acrobat 9 Pro Extended supports all the popular video formats, such as .mov, .mp4, and .wmf, and converts these to a light weight Flash format for inclusion in your document. Before embedding your video you can also choose the player’s look, feel and functionality, select a display image from any of the video’s frames, and size the video to fit neatly into your document. (I found that the best way to do embed video into MS Word is by creating a text box, sizing the video in the Video upload utility and dropping it into this box. This way you have full control over the video’s position on the page. )



Creating Dynamic and Portable Presentations

Adobe Presenter, included in Acrobat 9 Pro Extended allows you to create rich media on-demand presentations that can be published to a single PDF file, distributed and then played back by anyone who has the free Adobe Reader 9. You can even publish your finalized presentation in Flash .swf format, or you can simply publish and distribute your presentation on the web in PDF format.


The finalized presentation can include audio, video, interactive quizzes, and of course all the animation schemes and transitions that you’d expect from a standard PowerPoint presentation.

Figure 4 – A Rich Media and Portable Adobe Presenter Presentation

You create your presentation directly in PowerPoint with help from the Adobe Presenter options shown below and the Acrobat action buttons shown in Figure 1 where you can include all the functionality of PowerPoint, plus the added benefits of rich media content and PDF cross platform portability and web access.

Figure 5 – The Adobe Presenter Option Pallet in PowerPoint

Putting it all Together


Assembling your portfolio is the simply a matter dragging each of your files into the provided portfolio editor, choosing a layout, personalizing it by adding a welcome message and header that can include graphics, selecting a color scheme, specifying file details and publishing it to PDF format. I did it, and it only took a few minutes - the flow is extremely intuitive.

Figure 6 – The Portfolio Editor

Once you’ve pulled together all your presentation material, which can include a variety of rich media documents, stand alone video, audio, PDF files, Web pages and more, you consolidate and share your work in a customized PDF Portfolio. The finalized portfolio is a PDF file that can be viewed by any one who has the Adobe Reader 9.

Sharing and Collaborating


Acrobat 9 Pro Extended comes with built-in capability that enables you to share your work

and collaborate with project team members around the world.


You click on the ‘Send & Collaborate Live’ menu pick to synchronize your documentview and share it with team members.


Activating this option allows you to signin to Acrobat.com where you first inviteyour attendees via email. When they join you by clicking an email link every action you take in your PDF document, like changing pages or zooming in to a portion of a page is seen by them. And to participate, all they need is the free Adobe Reader 9.


Once attendees are signed in to the collaborative meeting they’ll also be able to on-screen chat or hook up by phone. And, as the meeting’s initiator you can also allow team members to see your desktop in real time, or turn over control to another person’s desktop.

Video: Synchronizing Document View in Acrobat 9 Pro Extended

Summary

Adobe has evidently put tons of thought and time into this product, and it shows. The melding of Flash and Acrobat have yielded a collaborative tool that has even more features and capabilities than I’ve mentioned in this short review, and it has arrived just as the need for collaborative solutions are becoming a ‘must have.’ Whether you’re trying to address team challenges in mechanical design, software development, architecture, marketing, or need to coordinate any effort you should seriously consider this cost effective tool. Adobe offers a free 30 day trial, and I’d strongly recommend that you visit their site and give it a try; it’s bound to open your eyes to new business possibilities.

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By: David Heller

David Heller has written more than twelve technical and fiction books published by Addisson-Wesely, Simon-Schuster, Prentice-Hall, McGraw Hill, and more, was a technical writer and professional columnist, and has devoted the past fourteen years to the Internet business primarily focused on MCAD/CAM, Electronic Design Automation, Architectural Engineering & Construction, and Geographical Information Systems.


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