Adobe Acrobat, PDF set for official Tablet PC debut Nov. 7
XDocs v. PDF debate aside, Adobe and Microsoft collaborate to extend PDF capabilities to another portable platform

1 November 2002

By Kurt Foss, Planet PDF Editor

During the question-and-answer session toward the end of Adobe Systems' recently held meeting with investors and industry analysts, several in the audience wanted to know more about how Adobe plans to deal with direct competition to its Acrobat/PDF product line from Microsoft. A week or so earlier many analysts speculated wildly that Microsoft's announcement of XDocs, a forthcoming enhancement to MS Office reportedly designed to simplify the creation of electronic forms, could prove to be a serious blow to Adobe.

Shantanu Narayen, Adobe's Executive Vice President of Worldwide Products, addressed the perception by saying there's "no hostility between the companies." As evidence, he said Microsoft chose Acrobat as one of the key applications for its Tablet PC technology.

MS Tablet PC

On November 7 in New York, Microsoft will finally and officially roll out its long-in-development Tablet PC, and sure enough, Adobe will be one of the partner companies on hand to participate. While Microsoft previously demonstrated publicly the use of Acrobat on the new "digital notebook" -- "smaller than a laptop, more powerful than a PDA" -- Adobe so far has had little to say publicly on the subject.

Times have changed.

Calling Microsoft's new mobile computing platform "the ideal digital document platform," Jonathan Knowles, Adobe's Worldwide Evangelist for ePaper, told Planet PDF today "it's as if Acrobat has been waiting for the Tablet PC to arrive." Knowles will be on hand next week in New York to help showcase the apparently perfectly matched couple, specifically to extol the features, capabilities and benefits of extending the reach of PDF to Microsoft's latest evolution in notebook computing.

Acrobat 5.x runs on the Tablet PC "straight from the box," Knowles says. Adobe is one of the few project partners that hasn't had to do anything special in order to bring its portable document format technology to the new device, which runs Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition OS, a superset of the Windows XP Professional operating system; it adds pen-based capabilities to full notebook computers. According to Microsoft, "Tablet PCs have special screens which use an active digitizer to enable users to write directly on the screen to control their PC and to input information as handwriting or drawing."

Acrobat users will be able to take advantage of this more natural input method (called "inking" in Tablet PC parlance) in utilizing the program's various document collaboration tools -- annotations, highlighting, etc -- when displaying PDFs on the Tablet devices (made by several companies and in a couple different styles). For example, rather than using a mouse with the application's drop-down menus to access and drive Acrobat's pencil tool, a Tablet user will be able to directly use the Tablet PC's "digital pen" to write and draw on a PDF document. "The pencil tool is really a pencil," Knowles says, an input device much more suited to the kinds of graphical nuances often desired in document markup and review on CAD drawings converted to PDF. Ditto for electronically highlighting portions of a PDF file -- almost like doing it in the non-digital world.

In the future, Acrobat's functionality on the Tablet PC may be enhanced if a technology demo co-developed by Adobe and Microsoft leads to a publicly available add-on. At present, Knowles says, there is no commitment to go beyond the working demo -- one he'll be showing at the upcoming Microsoft launch and again at the PDF Conference in Las Vegas in late November -- of a plug-in that extends Acrobat to include access to a special inline version [illustrated below] of the Tablet's standard Input Panel that works with PDF-based forms. The prototype plug-in allows an Acrobat user to tap into the text field to pop up the small inline panel for entering hand-written text in a form text field; it enables Acrobat to take advantage of Microsoft's state-of-the-art handwriting recognition technology. Hand-written text is converted to digital, typed text and entered in the form text field.

Tablet PC Inline TIP

"Adobe is committed to the Tablet PC," Knowles says, adding that the company wants to make sure the use of Acrobat on the device "provides the optimal experience for our customers." If you're inclined to read between the lines, you might expect that plug-in development isn't likely to end with the demo. But for now, it's another of Adobe's promising, but not-promising-anything "technology demos."

Tablet PC convertibleKnowles sees the Tablet PC becoming popular quickly with a couple key segments of the computer-savvy community -- with so-called "corridor warriors" and within certain vertical markets. The always-on-the-go first group could use a convertible-style Tablet PC device, one that allows the screen to be re-arranged depending on the viewing preference or document dimensions, as a sort of digital clipboard. With a wireless connection and a WebDAV server setup, for example, Knowles says a busy executive could make annotations on a PDF document while walking down the hallway between meetings, and quickly send them electronically to other connected users before the next meeting begins.

Tablet PC slate A slate-style Tablet PC device might be more appealing to physicians and others who could use it in place of traditional note-taking systems (if the Tablet can truly decipher a doctor's handwriting, then the rest of us are home free!).

If -- as some analysts seem determined to believe -- Microsoft is setting its sights on competing with and possibly undermining PDF and Adobe, at least for now the companies seem in harmony. And that's in keeping with the harmonious, meant-for-each-other relationship Knowles perceives between Acrobat and the Tablet PC.


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