Adobe Acrobat 9

Today Adobe announced Acrobat 9. They have dropped the “3D” tag and are now calling the full blown version Adobe Acrobat 9 Pro Extended. Last Thursday Rak Bhalla from Adobe spent an hour and a half showing me the new features of Acrobat 9. Here are the few things that got my attention.

Adobe claims to be getting wide industry support for 3D PDF. The names I heard included SolidWorks, PTC, Lattice, Right Hemisphere, Quadrispace, Bentley, Seemage and Actify. Conspicious by its absence was Autodesk, quite obviously since Autodesk would want to promote their own DWF format. I don’t know how many of you have noticed, but for many versions now, when installing previous versions of Acrobat Professional, the installer searches for certain installed applications (such as Microsoft Office, AutoCAD, etc.) and installs plug-ins for these applications that allow them to create PDF files. I could never understand why Adobe’s plug-in for AutoCAD created only 2D PDF files. Upon inquiring I was told that things would change. Since Autodesk doesn’t seem to be interested in making their products output 3D PDF, I guess Adobe will have to do it themselves.

Acrobat 9 now has native support for Flash. So you can seamlessly integrate Flash videos into a PDF file. In fact, you can include just about any kind of document inside a PDF file, thanks to something that Adobe refers to as PDF portfolio. As I understand it, a PDF portfolio is something like a zip file which contains a bunch of other files. So if you want to send someone a brochure, a solid model, a training manual document or whatever, just put them all into a PDF portfolio and send it. Anyone with the free Acrobat Reader will be able to extract the files out.

One complaint has always been that Acrobat takes a jolly good time to load, thanks to the various DLL’s it loads at startup. Apparently, this time around loading has been made 2 to 3 times faster. One way I see this happening is by making DLL’s to load when required and not on startup. Or maybe Adobe has another trick up it’s sleeve.

Adobe has decided to put their domain name Acrobat.com to better use. Acrobat.com (currently in Beta) offers a bunch of online services for file sharing and storage. Using Acrobat.com you “take control” of a PDF file being viewed by another person anywhere in the world. The person controlling can zoom, pan and rotate the 3D objects in a PDF file on his computer and the same will happen on the other side as well. Since the data transmitted between the computers involved is only the camera position, there are no irritating lag times. Creating an account at Acrobat.com is free.

Speaking of zoom, it brings me back to something I said on this blog more than a year ago when I was fiddling around with Acrobat 3D 8. At that time I could not find a way to do a Zoom Window. I could only find a Zoom icon which let me zoom in and out. In one of his comments, Mike Kaplan, Director of Engineering, Acrobat 3D, enlightenned me that right-click-drag would let me do a Zoom Window. I found that odd, and confusing as well, because for the text part of a PDF file you need to left click and drag a Zoom Window. In fact, Acrobat 3D 8 is the only “CAD” application I know that does it this way. And they have not changed it in Acrobat 9.

Another problem I had with Acrobat 3D 8 was Adobe’s idea of wireframe. The wireframe in Acrobat 3D 8 was actually the render mesh, the bunch of triangles that are used internally to display a 3D NURBS solid model on a 2D screen. This is very different from what we in the CAD world know wireframe to be. The real problem was that Acrobat 3D 8 used this render mesh to perform measurements on the 3D model – a disaster for any engineer. This is what I said at that time:

“I am not quite sure what Adobe’s view of collaboration is. You just cannot give an engineer down in manufacturing a mesh (however fine and hence unmanageable it may be) and expect him to “collaborate” effectively with an engineer in the design department. He needs to know distances, angles, surface curvature and continuity, etc. precisely, from a NURBS model, not based on some stupid render mesh. A 3D model is not any ordinary document like a purchase order, and I feel Adobe needs to realize that.”

I regret to inform you that Acrobat 9 does not do things any differently. It uses the same render mesh to calculate measurements. But now there is a very valid reason for that. The reason is Adobe 3D Reviewer, an application that comes bundled with Acrobat Pro Extended. The 3D Reviewer was intially developed by TTF, a company that Adobe bought, which gave it the technology to step into the 3D world. You can do precise measurements with the 3D Reviewer, and a lot more. The bad news is that you cannot buy the 3D Reviewer alone. It comes only bundled with Acrobat Pro Extended priced at $699. You don’t even get it with Acrobat Pro, which is priced at $499. The entry level Acrobat Standard is priced at $299.

Adobe believes that for every 3D PDF file created there are 50 downstream users. That is to say that 50 people will view, edit, markup, etc. each and every 3D PDF file. I have absolutely no idea how they arrived at that figure, but it sure sounds interesting. I wonder what number Autodesk would put on DWG.

Adobe is not going down the subscription road, at least not with Acrobat. That’s nice to hear. Almost unbelievable, if you ask me, considering that they are this giant money making machine. Another thing that I was extremely pleased to hear was that Adobe does not intend to ribbonize Acrobat. I just hate the ribbon from the bottom of my heart. It’s ok if you use just one CAD application and maybe a few other programs now and then. You simply brainwash your mind and start from scratch. But if you are someone like me who uses different CAD applications (almost always simultaneously), then finding things becomes a nightmare. At least with the menu/toolbar combo you had a sense of where things would most probably be.

Towards the end, I asked Rak who Adobe considered was it’s closest rival in this sphere. Very tactfully, he replied, “Paper. We are having a hard time convincing people to stop using paper.

I noticed that all of Adobe’s 3D software is related to viewing, sharing and collaborating geometry, never in creating it. I asked Rak if Adobe was interested in pursuing developing software to create 3D content. Rak replied in the negative. As far as Adobe is concerned it intends to leave 3D geometry creation to others.

Acrobat 9 is due to ship in July 2008. If you want to be notified when a trial becomes available you can fill out a form here.