Planet PDF's Weblog
A daily chronicle of Acrobat/PDF-oriented newsbits

For week beginning 24 June 02
By Kurt Foss, Planet PDF Editor

Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday | Friday

NOTE: Previous Weblogs will be archived at the end of each week, and start fresh here.


Pair of ACEs: We launched this Weblog a couple months back with a combined announcement and boast -- Adobe ACE logo one of the winners in a then-recent promotional contest to give away several vouchers good for taking the Adobe Certified Expert (ACE) exam had done so, and passed. Then things went quiet -- until today.

More good news to share, and with it we hope inspiration for others who've contemplated -- but not yet pursued -- the certification process. Voucher winner Colleen Isbell, an Electronic Production Designer with Landor Associates, is the second of our newly authenticated Acrobat experts, having aced the ACE exam over the weekend.

"I have been so focused on prepress aspects of PDF," she says, "I paid little attention to the rest of the tools and capabilities of the product. I used the Classroom in a Book for Acrobat 5 to study for the exam and found it provided a good overview of full product capabilities."

But there was more to her preparation and success than simply hitting the books. "I found it useful to create real world projects to practice on," Isbell says, "converting our Print Production manual [example page below] to an on-line, interactive PDF book, as an example." The personal exercises included basic tasks like adding links, bookmarks and buttons to a print-oriented manual to "to make it more online friendly," creating a stamp file from the company's "Laserprint Tag" library, experimenting with the Comments tools and setting up an Acrobat 5 batch process "to remove the tags, as we would do prior to sending out the final, press ready PDF."

Isbell practice project for ACE exam

"By using already existing documents/processes, the lessons had even more impact. It also helped me thinking about how our processes can change to accommodate the automation processes available via PDF," she says. Other Isbell tips:

  1. "Go through each of the lessons in the "Classroom in a Book", and do the "exploring on your own" sections.
  2. Find other resources for areas you need more exposure to. Adobe just added technical on-line training, including Acrobat JavaScript modules (an area not covered very well in the book).
  3. Join a list in areas of interest and be sure to check out Planet PDF for news, tools and lists to sign up with. (No sucking up here - as I said, you were/are a great resource for all things PDF!)."

As we said, she's smart, too!


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OS X PDF Options: Much has been made of the significance of PDF to Apple's latest operating system, OS X ("10"), including the ability to directly create PDFs from within any application that uses a print dialog. There are tradeoffs to this ease -of-authoring functionality, differences that may not always be perceived by the creator using the PDF Creation Feature in Mac OS X, but -- depending on the eventual use -- that may become obvious (or cause problems, the reason for which may not be obvious to a new adopter) at a later stage to the creator or to others working with such file. Apple's implementation is not up to the current PDF 1.4 specification, for one thing.

But that's not to say one can't create PDF 1.4-compliant portable docs on a Mac OS X system, as is spelled out in Adobe's Support Knowledgebase Document 326968 titled "How to Create PDF Files in Mac OS X." The Tech Note covers:

  • Using Distiller 5.x in Mac OS X Classic Mode
  • Using Acrobat 5.05 in Mac OS X Native Mode
  • Using the PDF Creation Feature in Mac OS X

The latter section includes the following statement:

"Disclaimer: This information is provided as a courtesy. Adobe Technical Support doesn't support the Mac OS X PDF creation feature."
with the following addendum:
"Note: If you use a native OS X Adobe application, use the PDF creation feature built in to that application instead of this method. For example, in Adobe Illustrator 10, choose File > Save As, and choose Adobe PDF from the Format pop-up menu."

Adobe further notes that the AdobePS printer driver currently doesn't offer native support for Mac OS X, which means you cannot use Adobe Acrobat Distiller in Mac OS X Native mode. Instead, Adobe suggests you create PDF files in Mac OS X using any of these three options:

  • Use Acrobat Distiller 5.x in Mac OS X Classic mode to create PDF 1.4 files
  • Use Adobe Acrobat 5.0.5 to create PDF 1.4 files in Mac OS X Native mode
  • Use the PDF creation feature in Mac OS X to create PDF 1.3 files from native Mac OS X applications

In other words, simplest -- or "thinking differently" about PDF creation -- is not always best.


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No Mad Hatter at Adobe: In an earlier Weblog entry we referenced an article on Acrobat PDF Forms -- specifically on the significance of Adobe Systems' recent acquisition of Accelio -- at a publication dedicated to government technology-oriented topics. This week there's a newsworthy trinket published by yet another specialty publication focused on the same high-tech theme and market -- and again, the focus was PDF Forms. This time, however, there was mention of a previously unmentionable, apparently forthcoming Acrobat product from Adobe. Not that we're privvy to a lot of insider information from Adobe, but something sounded a bit odd -- so we thought best to scratch a bit further under the surface before reporting on the report.

Mad Hatter

"Tea Party, anyone?"

I know Adobe has taken some flack over the years for not differentiating more clearly between its ePaper products -- the differences between Acrobat and Acrobat Reader still confuse far too many people for products closing in on a decade of brand awareness. But is Adobe really preparing to launch a new Acrobat-related product in late July -- described as a "forms-authoring tool" -- called "Tea Party," as was reported in the June 24 issue of Federal Computer Week (also available on its Web site)? Has someone at Adobe Acrobat Marketing gone Mad?

Sorry, Alice, we can't answer that last question for you (it's certainly possible someone finally snapped over that Acrobat-Reader confusion thing). But we did get some additional details -- although not many -- from some seemingly sane Adobe folks. They were admittedly reluctant to divulge too much, giving the clear impression that the account was an "information slip" -- not exactly planned, early promotion at this time.

Yes, No and Maybe -- and Maybe Not: There is *not* a forthcoming Adobe product called "Tea Party" -- but that *is* the codename for some Acrobat Forms-related "technology under development." (Much as "Carousel" was the pre-release codename for Acrobat, and as "Green Giant" was Adobe-Speak for Acrobat Capture.) It's also unlikely to be ready to ship by the end of July; but when it does ship "by end of summer," it will be a commercial product as opposed to a freebie -- but no pricing information available at this time. According to Adobe spokesfolk, it's not really a "forms-authoring tool" as described in the FCW article; it's more "a tool used by forms authors, more like a utility." Even though it's technically not a plug-in, we were told, it apparently it will *work* "similar to the way the 'Make Accessible' plug-in works" on PDF files -- that is, after opening a specific PDF Form, you will be able to apply the new "not Tea Party, not an authoring too, not a plug-in, not in July, not free" utility on that open form document. No comment on the 'both Mac and PC versions' question, by the way.

OK, we sort of know now what it's NOT -- so what *will* it do? Adobe says it will significantly reduce the currently labor-intensive effort and technical process required to make Acrobat PDF forms accessible. That certainly has to sound like good news to federal agencies and other governmental units, many for whom forms are more or less the common currency, the source of much important information flow. And all which must find ways to abide by the mandated Section 508 accessibility requirements that went into effect a year ago.

Among the early testers of the codename-only utility is -- surprise, surprise -- the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), already a flagship user of PDF and source of more forms than you'd ever really want (or need) to know about. Boston Tea Party (And thus the "Tea Party" codename, an apparent reference to the tax-revolting 'Boston Tea Party' of the American Revolution legend.) Making all its forms accessible -- or at least the subset most frequently requested by disabled users -- is a mammoth undertaking for the IRS, at least using currently available tools and methods. But as the article "IRS makes tax forms accessible" reports, there are recent signs of progress. The IRS' Alternative Media Center has now posted a selection of example forms that have been adapted to meet Section 508 accessibility requirements -- suitable for use by select screen reading devices.

"The big help that [codename] 'Tea Party' will provide is a better tool that will shorten the time it takes to make a product accessible," says the IRS' 'Portable Paul' Showalter. "What came with Acrobat 5.0 didn't work for forms, and Adobe realized they had to deliver something else. It is not the goose that laid the golden egg, but it is getting us further than other tools."

We've posted an example of the standard PDF version of IRS 1040A tax form and an excerpt from the accessible version of IRS 1040A tax form for comparison.

I don't know about you, but I'm feeling a bit lost in this maze of mixed metaphors -- Tea Party, Green Giant, Golden Eggs, etc -- Acrobat and Acrobat Reader aren't sounding so confusing anymore. Do you think this is all part of an ingenious Adobe scheme?

Me, neither.


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Microsoft demos Acrobat on Tablet PC: The Microsoft hype (Bill Gates: "one of the most amazing projects we've ever done") started some two years back for its still-unreleased gadget dubbed the Tablet PC. But this week an actual ETA -- November 7, 2002 -- was offered as the date you (assuming you're as wild about getting one as Gates & Friends hope) can shell out for this new, ultra-portable unit that also accepts input from a special digital pen and "handwritten ink."

The latest public demo of Microsoft's "next major evolution in PC design and functionality" running Windows XP was at the TECHXNY show in New York early this week. Jeff Raikes, VP for Productivity and Business services, talked up the myriad benefits of such a device for so-called "information workers," and proceeded to demo a variety of "information worker solutions" from some of Microsoft's Tablet PC partners.The TECHXNY keynote was also Webcast, and remains available for viewing.

Acrobat users might want to zoom ahead to the 49-minute mark of the video clip, which should drop you in very close to the point where Raikes introduces an apparent Adobe solution as being among the "first wave of products" designed especially for the Tablet PC environment. Raikes proceeds to demonstrate how one could "ink in" an IRS tax form using a digital pen, Acrobat and a reportedly new Adobe plug-in.

So soon we'll be inking in forms while many forms-intensive organizations still don't have "fill-in" PDF Forms -- form fields that can be completed electronically -- available?

"I think people will be filling in PDF forms (government and others) on every device out there," says Paul Showalter of the IRS. "The key is access and making it work. Will someone fill out their tax form while sitting in the stands at Yankee Stadium, no. But they might work on a draft of their information while taking the subway or train to work. The value to our customers is the knowledge that they can take our files (products) anywhere and work on them. And then move the data or form from one device to another. We satisfy their needs, whether it's paper or electronic."

"The technology being developed by companies like Adobe and Ansyr Technologies will push the envelope of the products and services we deliver to our customers," he says. "Better technology and devices will create a demand for alternative products and services. Both sides will be pushing. Lots of great prospects for the future."

Speaking of the future, what about that supposed new Acrobat plug-in from Adobe for Tablet PCs? Well, we didn't get far with our recent query seeking further details about a new PDF Forms utility code-named "Tea Party" apparently in development at Adobe. But we had to ask -- again.

We got even less far with this second request. At this time, Adobe's not confirming any such future product, explaining that "what was shown as part of Microsoft's Tech X speech was simply a technology demo for purposes of that keynote." Sure thing ... wink, wink. So stay tuned -- at least if you're a future Tablet toter.


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Studying the Study: We reported barely a week ago on Seybold's launch of the first significant industry study on PDF usage, being conducted entirely online during a four-week period ending July 19. We urge members of the Planet PDF community, whether your primary involvement with PDF is on the authoring or receiving side, to participate. The survey addresses the interests, experiences and issues related to both classes of users -- via a dynamic set of questions related specifically to each user group's primary interaction with portable documents.

It's going to be interesting to see what we can all learn from the survey's results when they are compiled and analyzed. Will they merely verify and validate things we *think* are already true, or will there be some surprises? The first hint of that will be revealed during the three-day Seybold PDF Conference in September; the first day of the San Francisco event features the "PDF Summit," where conference organizers will share not only general survey results, but also present the outcome of an equally noteworthy educational project called the "PDF Workflow Shootout." Like the survey, it's currently underway.

Seybold PDF Conference co-chairs Hans Hartman and John Parsons, who are managing the two efforts respectively, are to be commended -- along with the many who are involved behind the scenes on projects of this scale and complexity -- for launching important studies that are sure to generate original, independent and credible research on technologies that have become critical to many businesses. We hope everyone in a position to participate in either (or both, if relevant) Seybold project will do so, as that only increases the value of the studies.

Back to the survey briefly: We hope you'll take note of an article we published this week on the development of the PDF version of the survey on PDF usage. It certainly would have been easy -- though a bit dubious -- for Seybold to have offered only the standard HTML version of the survey on PDF usage. Instead, they did the right thing -- offering users a choice. The real beauty, as we conveyed in this week's article, is that the two versions are practically identical in functionality: From the user's perspective, both serve new pages and questions dynamically based on a user's input to previous questions. And both produce virtually identical output on electronic submission (the only option). The PDF version is the work of math professor and LaTeX-to-PDF wizard Donald Story. By the way, as we note in the article "Seybold PDF survey *in* PDF also worthy of study," we're soliciting any feedback ( you might care to offer about the PDF version of the survey.

Adobe Closed Next Week: Following a money-saving step invoked last year, Adobe Systems will be closed again during the week of July 4. Yes, even the seemingly omni-present Dov Isaacs might even disappear from the online radar next week. Though now and again we might needle a few of them on certain Acrobat/PDF-related issues, the folks we've come to know there over the years are a dedicated and talented lot. Probably one of their most admirable cumulative traits, despite what some might think at times, the Acrobat team has a bona fide track record of listening to users. But next week, they get a deserved -- if non-optional -- break from the listening.


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Adding a PDF Stamp Comment

OK, so you want to stamp your document. Maybe you need to give reviewers some advice about the document's status or sensitivity. This tip from author Ted Padova demonstrates how to add stamps with the Stamp Tool along with related comments.