This week Adobe launched the free public beta version of Acrobat.com, a web-based supplement to its popular PDF document-creation application. The new site offers an array of services to help businesses share and collaborate on documents. It also supports basic web conferencing (including desktop sharing) and limited free conversion of documents to PDF format.
The final version of Acrobat 9.0 is scheduled to ship in July, along with a new version of Adobe Reader.
But even if you don't use Adobe's desktop apps, you can get a lot of mileage from Acrobat.com if you work with others to create documents. We were able to test most of the beta Acrobat.com features last week, and found them to be an excellent mix of services for remote collaboration.
Acrobat.com has four principal components: a word processor called Buzzword; online file sharing via a feature called Share; a file converter that lets you convert up to five documents per month, free, to PDF format (offered within Share); and ConnectNow for personal web conferencing. Adobe also makes APIs available for developers so they can create service mash-ups more easily.
Buzzword, a Flash-based word processor, was originally developed by Virtual Ubiquity, which Adobe acquired last September. The program is no Microsoft Word, but it covers the basics of document creation, including formatting, tables, and image importing. Its menus are easy to learn and its response time is quick.
Buzzword shines when you need to share or collaboratively create documents. You can decide whether to share a document with anyone who knows its URL or to restrict access to specific Acrobat.com users. User rights - which the person who submits the document to Acrobat.com assigns - range from Co-author (full document-editing privileges) to Reviewer (may add comments only) to Reader (may read only).
Each collaborator's comments appear in a different colour. Buzzword saves the document automatically as you work. You may revert to an earlier version if you wish.
You can import and export Buzzword documents to other popular document formats including Word (.doc, .docx, .xml), .rtf, and .txt. You can also export to HTML or to PDF formats.
Share assigns a unique URL to each document that you upload to your account (you get 5GB of storage space). To share a document, you enter the other person's email address, along with an optional message, and specify whether the file may be viewed publicly or only by the recipient. The recipient will receive an email with a link to the document.
You can embed public documents on a website or blog. Readers will see a small thumbnail; they can click this to see a PDF document or image file in a full-screen preview.
You can share files, including Office documents, in non-Adobe formats. But within the browser you can view only Adobe documents; to view all others, you must run a desktop application that supports the file format.
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