PDF In-Depth

Max Wyss: First Impressions of Acrobat 7.0

Forms and Acrobat 7.0

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SHEA: Adobe LiveCycle Designer now ships with Acrobat 7.0 Professional (version 6 of Designer was purchased separately), giving users unprecedented control over form design "out-of-the-box." What difference do you think this will make to the uptake of Designer over Acrobat as a form-authoring tool?

WYSS: Acrobat was never a forms-authoring tool; it was a component in the forms authoring process (with some exceptions, where the forms creator actually started with a blank PDF and did everything with fields).

Designer has its great advantages, and does make life a lot easier in a closed enterprise environment, because database connectivity is a lot easier to accomplish.

The reason for including the forms designer is however pretty obvious. Adobe wants to get their user base upgraded to 7.0 at all costs.

SHEA: Adobe is obviously encouraging form designers to use LiveCycle Designer for forms design, but making this move will obviously also involve additional software and training costs. What are some of the benefits that can be realized by using Designer over AcroForms?

WYSS: A very good question. Actually, I don't see that many immediate advantages of the XDP format over AcroForms in the general environment. In a closed enterprise environment, the aforementioned database connectivity is an advantage, and the closeness to XML has its merits. On the other hand, there is much better control over things with AcroForms.

SHEA: Are there any "hidden issues" of which current AcroForm designers should be aware before making the jump across to Designer?

WYSS: Well, the main issue is called "burning the bridges after you." Switching to XDP (which is what happens by using the forms designer) means that all the users must be upgraded to Acrobat (Reader) 7 in order to make full use of the designer's features. Acrobat (Reader) 6.02 may work for some features, but anything older will likely have more serious problems.

Whether it is possible to upgrade the users will depend a lot on the circumstances. For an open environment, as we have in the Government and General Public field, one can forget about that for another 3 years or so, and the willingness to upgrade in big corporations is questionable too, considering the cost of testing and approving a new application for full deployment. In my experience, that can very easily get in to 6 figures.

So, my advice to forms experts about whether to make the move to start using the forms designer is: "Think twice; there will be serious consequences."

However, I fear that, because the forms designer is available "for free," many pointy-haireds will force their secretaries to use the forms designer ... without training, of course. It reminds me of when the first range of Desktop Publishing applications were released, when anybody and everybody thought that they could make things themselves, without professional support ... the results were, accordingly terrible.

SHEA: Designer is a part of the Adobe's LiveCycle product range, aimed at the higher-end of business where require more sophisticated PDF solutions are required. However does this mean that users need any of the other LiveCycle products (e.g. LiveCycle Forms, LiveCycle Form Manager) to be able to use Designer for their form design? Please explain...

WYSS: I would phrase it like this: for whatever is not explicitly stated to be possible without them, you will need one of the server products. That may be oversimplified, but one should test it out before making the "big jump." The first of the server products needed is probably the Reader Extensions Server, depending on the size of the enterprise. The Forms Manager can be a very interesting development support tool, and may well pay off if configured and licensed to support the correct number of forms.

SHEA: What's the chance that future versions of Adobe Acrobat and Adobe Reader won't support the AcroForms style of PDF forms, forcing people to move across to Designer to create compatible PDF forms?

WYSS: That chance is very high. It could be that using AcroForms forms will be available for a bit longer, but creating and managing AcroForms might be abandoned pretty soon. That is speculation at the moment, and I don't think that Adobe can afford not to listen to their customers about these issues. Keep in mind that many of the Reference Customers are not operating in a closed enterprise environment, and therefore have to adapt to what the end users have. That means that AcroForms will have to remain the primary choice for another couple of years.

SHEA: How easy or difficult is it to migrate forms across from Acrobat to LiveCycle Designer? What do you think are the key considerations here?

WYSS: It is easy to burn the bridges after you, but you may get stuck...

SHEA: Since Acrobat 5.0, JavaScript has offered a simple yet flexible way to automate time-consuming or laborious tasks. What's new for JavaScript coders in v7.0?

WYSS: The documentation grew by almost 50% from the Acrobat 6 JavaScript documentation, but it now includes the Multimedia part, which was previously contained in its own document. There is a series of new objects, and some previously undocumented features have now been documented.

The biggest change concerning JavaScript is as far as I could see is that the Menu event is no longer privileged. This introduces compatibility issues, and will break quite a few applications.

SHEA: Thanks for your time, Max.

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