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Adobe Acrobat Reviews

Adobe Aims Acrobat at Autodesk

reprinted by permission of Ralph Grabowski, editor

November 16, 2004, 2004

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With the relaunch of its DWF format a coupla' years back, Autodesk went into a rage over Adobe's PDF format. The company later toned down its attack ads, and now even admits PDF (portable document format) is useful for text. While that was going on, Adobe made PDF v6 more friendly towards drawings.

It comes as little surprise, then, that the latest release (#7) of Acrobat takes more of Autodesk's criticisms, and incorporates them as features into PDF. Last week, Randt Swineford and Patrick Aragon called to walk us through a demo of Acrobat 7. Both are senior product marketing managers for AEC at Adobe.

Integrated Animated 3D

As we watched the demo, we thought the most impressive feature is that PDF files now can contain interactive 3D images. They can rotate and zoom, have their lighting changed, switch between named views, show animations, and create links between words and the images. (Click a boldface word, and the 3D image executes an animation, such as air flowing through a turbine.) User manuals can now have 3D animations (written in Javascript) to show how parts are assembled and taken apart.

The catch is that the 3D image must be in U3D format, as championed by the 3DIF consortium headed up by Intel. How, we asked Messrs Swineford and Aragon, d'you get 3D CAD models into U3D? So far, it turns out, only Bentley Systems is actively writing a DGN->U3D translator. Other members of the 3DIF group, such as PTC and UGS, might; no promises. We could see third-party developers, such as Tailor Made Software, also writing U3D translators for AutoCAD and Inventor.

Embedded Markups in DWG

Redlining is beefed up in Acrobat Professional with a new call-out tool and a palette of commonly-used symbols. An 'Acrobat Markup' item gets added to the menu bar of AutoCAD (2002 through 2005). Mimicking AutoCAD 2005's Markup Set Manager, markups in Acrobat can now be embedded in drawings. (Technically, they are placed as 'acrobatcommentpopup' objects and stored on their own layer.)

We thought of a problem: what happens, we asked, when we send marked up drawings to users who don't have Acrobat 7? The markups turn into proxy objects: viewable, but not editable.

And later we thought of another puzzler: Bentley is a loud and public supporter of PDF, but they're having to write the PDF/U3D code themselves. Autodesk is an even louder anti-supporter of PDF, but Adobe is writing the code for AutoCAD. Now there's a head-scratcher...

Other New Features

  • Launch time is 4x faster, and PDF creation is about 20-30% faster.
  • Integration added to Outlook [boo!], which converts emails and their attachments to PDFs.
  • Structured bookmarks show the outline of documents.
  • Visio custom properties are preserved in PDFs as data.
  • Object Data Tool can be used to preserve CAD data, and to search for object data in PDFs.
  • Organizer creates project-like collections of shortcuts to PDF files.
  • New methods for applying security policies.
  • Forms Designer included.

But no support for DWF.

Acrobat is not cheap. The Pro version is US$449 ($159 upgrade), while the Standard version is $299 ($99 upgrade). The Reader is free, and will allow markups, if enabled by the Pro users. The software is expected to be released on the last day of 2004. http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat.

Meanwhile, Back at Fleishman-Hillard

Tony Peach is director of DWF strategy at Autodesk, and he's done an excellent job of framing the issue as "DWF vs. PDF," and in that order. He's made many of us give little thought to the many alternatives, like SVF (vector graphics standard approved by the World Wide Web Consortium), eDrawings (for 3D MCAD from GSS), CSF (content sealed format from Informative Graphics), JT Open (from UGS), and so on. The message has been pounded home - PDF: okay for text; DWF: better for drawings.

Mr Peach pushed to give DWF a heaping portion of mindshare, though its market share has not yet gelled. Autodesk has spent a lot on developing, marketing, and distributing free DWF software. But when it comes to for-fee products, well, Autodesk has further extended DWF Composer's half-price introductory offer of US$99.

"The success of the DWF format is one thing," comments Martyn Day, group editor of 'MCAD' and 'AEC' magazines. "What matters is how the company expects to create a business model to make money. Adobe's is pretty clear-cut.

"Up until now, Autodesk has judged the success of DWF by the number of [free] downloads. Autodesk would have to sell a heck of a lot of DWF Composer software to refund the development and marketing effort. I think DWF is being used an increasing amount, but it's nowhere near a critical mass. With Composer out for a while now, perhaps they have a shorter view on return on investment, although I doubt it."

With that background, CAD editors were puzzled to receive an email from Mr Peach and Andrea Cousens of Autodesk's PR firm, Fleishman-Hillard. The content wasn't news - it repeated Autodesk's grievances against PDF - and so we wouldn't normally mention it.

The news was in the timing of the press release, however, and also in the working of the headline. The timing: the Friday afternoon before the Monday morning announcement of Acrobat 7. And the headline: "PDF Falls Flat in a 3D World."

A pre-emptive move, perhaps?

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