PDF In-Depth

Acrobat X is out in the wild, but you might not recognize it

November 23, 2010

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Acrobat X is out the door and ready for purchase and trial download from Adobe's website. (If you're a Windows user, that is! Sorry Mac users, no free trial for you!).

The first thing you'll notice when you install Acrobat X is the new interface. It looks bare, almost like Adobe Reader. In fact, when I first launched Acrobat X I had to double-check that I had indeed installed Acrobat and not Adobe Reader.

What is immediately obvious, and perhaps the hardest change for long-time users of Acrobat to adjust to, is that the Document, Tools, Forms and Advanced menus (and most of the default toolbar items as well) have been confined to the dustbin/trashcan of history.

Menus are out of favor (well, half of them anyway) and panels are in. To access all of the useful features in Acrobat you now need to click on either the Tools, Comment or Share buttons on the right-side of the toolbar. This opens a panel to the right of the screen from which you can access all of the features that were formerly available from the menu.

The breakdown of features in these panels is logical and in some cases makes more sense than the way in which features were formerly organized. For example, there is a Pages panel which houses the rotate, delete and extract page feature and there is a Protection panel which includes encryption and redaction features.

For people who have never used Acrobat before, the new user interface might make it easier to find all of the features they need, but for long-time users of Acrobat, it's likely to cause some disruption as they will have to relearn where each feature lives.

Redesigning a user interface is a tough job. Especially when you've got an application that is jam-packed with features. There's no doubt that the menu in Acrobat was becoming unwieldy and a bit of a mess. And it's easy to understand why: it has hardly changed in the past 15 years even though a ton of new features have been added in the same period.

But as a long-time user of Acrobat, I can't help but feel that perhaps Adobe didn't go far enough (I'm thinking of something more like the Microsoft Office 2007 complete redesign).

Adobe has not done away with the menu system entirely -- it has just removed the useful and advanced features from the menu and left the basic menu items (File, Edit, View, Window, Help) behind. So the user interface is stuck in limbo between the old and the new and its elegance suffers a little because of it.

Only time will tell what Acrobat users think of the new user interface -- will they embrace it, stick with their old versions or look for alternatives? We'll find out soon.

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