Whenever you download and print event registration forms, large reports, books, or sleek brochures from the Web, you usually wind up dealing with a file in Adobe's Portable Document Format (PDF). Adobe Acrobat is the standard-bearer for creating and editing complex PDF files. But why do you even need Acrobat when dozens of competing applications and free, Web-based services also can create PDF files?
While the price remains the same from Acrobat 7, we think the $449 Acrobat is unnecessary if you merely need to create little PDFs. However, version 8.1's enhancements make it richer than its predecessors if you require additional security and data-sharing that the little PDF makers can't provide. The additions to Acrobat 8.1 should appeal to those working in fields that deal with sensitive data--especially legal, medical, and financial professionals.
The download took us about 10 minutes on Windows XP. We chose the Typical installation, but you can select individual features with Complete or Custom setup, too. Acrobat version 8.1 now works with Windows Vista, too; you can visit Adobe's Web site to update from version 8 to 8.1. During setup, Acrobat adds Create PDF buttons into other software you may have, including Microsoft Office applications from 2000 to 2007.
Once Acrobat is running, the Getting Started screen presents big buttons for the major features: Create PDF, Combine Files, Export, and so on. The Start Meeting and Review & Comment buttons take you to Adobe Connect, which replaces Macromedia Breeze for hosting virtual meeting spaces. Acrobat 8.1 Professional offers tighter ease of use, with wizards to take you through PDF creation and management step by step if you need some hand-holding. The drop-down menus from the refreshed toolbar are also pretty easy to figure out, and you can customize the toolbars. Also, there's more control over redactions to keep your top-secret documents snoop-proof.
Finally, you can fill out Acrobat forms digitally instead of having to download a form from the free Acrobat Reader, print it, then turn it in by hand, via snail mail, or by fax; this is long overdue. Now your company or block club can send out a questionnaire or a party invitation via e-mail, collect the completed forms, and pool the data paperlessly in one place. The Acrobat Professional 8.1 edition can detect form fields in a PDF document automatically, enabling you to convert those flat lines to live fields ready for data input.