PDF In-Depth

Acrobat 9: A child grows up

Prepress schizophrenia

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Long-time Acrobat aficionados will recall that when John Warnock, then co-CEO of Adobe, introduced the Acrobat concept under the code-name Carousel, he was not thinking of a tool to make life easier for designers, publishers and their service providers. (Gene Gable offers a fascinating overview of the history of Acrobat and Carousel (and its first code-name "Camelot") at CreativePro.com). As Gene notes, Warnock sought to "solve a fundamental problem that confronts today's companies. The problem is concerned with our ability to communicate visual material between different computer applications and systems."

No mention of prepress.

The product got off to a very rocky start. It faced numerous competitors, including Common Ground from No Hands Software, WorldView from Interleaf and Envoy from WordPerfect. But probably its biggest problem was that Adobe insisted on charging for $50 for Acrobat Reader. I remember Jonathan Seybold publicly warning John Warnock that this was a strategic error, but Adobe persisted for some time thereafter.

Meanwhile the graphic arts industry cottoned on to Acrobat and PDF and, I would say, saved its bacon.

In the dark early days of desktop publishing, the top two problems faced by graphic arts service providers upon receipt of customer files were missing fonts and missing graphics (which is not to say there weren't a host of other challenges, but these two were the major problem in most jobs received). Acrobat strongly encouraged designers to embed fonts and graphics. Sure, the graphics might still be low-res RGB junk, but it was an improvement over not having the files at all. And, as it later turned out, embedding fonts could be a breach of copyright. But the workflow improvement over the "collect for output" approach in page layout software was so dramatic that the publishing industry began a full embrace of Acrobat and PDF long before the intended audience of electronic document producers even knew what Acrobat might do for them.

Still Adobe was fixated on its intended audience of emerging electronic publishers, and tended in numerous versions to slight the graphic arts community by failing to enhance graphic arts features in Acrobat and PDF. Third-party software companies, most notably Enfocus and Callas, were left to fill the gap by providing PDF preflight functionality and then some.

With Acrobat 9 there appears to me to be no doubt that Adobe has finally received the message loud and clear: whatever Acrobat means to the electronic document community, graphics and prepress are also a vital market for the product. As a result the required functionality for most graphic arts firms is now fully-embedded in the product, presumably to the detriment of some of the firms that grew by augmenting Acrobat's shortcomings in this key market (Callas however is the anointed licensed provider of many of these features in Acrobat today).

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