PS Consultants - ideas & solutions

This Acrobat can ride a unicycle whilst juggling chain saws…

Adobe and Macromedia continue to prove that application software seems to develop more effectively if kept out of the hands of Microsoft. I’ve recently installed and used Acrobat 6, and this is a major facelift and upgrade in terms of recent times for this product.

Since Acrobat 5 was first introduced, just about the entire world of reprographics and design has consolidated around the Acrobat PDF format as the common carrier for type and design files, and in version 6 just about everything has been completely revised and not just “rubbed down with an oily rag” – and the result is something that looks and feels more like an application than a viewer. Many applications that started life in a Mac environment (like Quicktime) tend to feel just plain wrong on a PC, as far as I am concerned, but now the Mac roots of Acrobat are less obvious – even if Adobe still lives very much in the Mac world with its captive audience of graphics designers..

The first thing that grabbed me about this release was the help system

 and its use of a scaleable text window. Hard to describe, but if you get the chance try it, and then you’ll want all help schemes to work this way. And guess what? It’s an Acrobat file in a “run time” reader window! So they are indeed preaching to the converted.

There is also now a “How To” panel on the right alongside the main window that forces users to appreciate that this product is a mutli-skilled application and not just a portable document creator.

This version now assumes a big screen and shows the benefits of software that can cut free from the constraints of the need to support “lowest common denominator” displays. It really needs 1600x1200 pixels to fly, so yah-boo to all you trendy types who had got into 1600x1200 on cheap 19” and 21” displays but then sacrificed acreage to go trendy with a flat screen display of rather less.

Acrobat buttons appear on the toolbars of most installed applications, and the process of creating a PDF from within applications more reliable – I always got the feeling that the “integrated” version 5 Distiller was on a bit of a wing and a prayer, and frequently yakked on a word file without giving a reason. Although version 6 feels more in confident in use, it still takes Word firmly by the scruff its neck – and doesn’t let go until its finished.

And I was intrigued to see an Acrobat button appear on the Internet Explorer button bar – this version now converts web pages to pdf directly, and allows you to add selected pages to a pdf so you can accumulate the bits of a web site you want in a single file.

There is now also extended support for various embedded video and sound formats; layers have arrived – and so this is fast becoming a hybrid of many things ranging from PowerPoint, to RoboHelp and even Flash.

At its simplest, Acrobat allows for more intelligent searching of a word doc file (or archive of files) than MS provides, and at it’s most complex, Acrobat provides a range of features for complex colour print process work and reviewing.

I can think of nothing negative to say about Acrobat 6. The pdf always was a considerably underestimated format and most users barely scraped the surface of its capabilities. This edition of Acrobat explains and guides the user through its features (especially the use of the structure features) more comprehensively than ever before. It’s now become one of those “must have” skills for any power user.

As usual, the reader is a free download for standalone or browser-embedded applications.


Whilst the milk of human kindness is sloshing around this column for once, I’m going to put in a good for Ipswitch’s What’s Up Gold system monitoring software suite, now version 8. ( This grew up from a simple freeware program a few years ago that pinged hosts that you told it to, and sounded the hooter when nothing came back – but it is now a truly lovely thing for us paranoids who want to see keep tabs on what’s going on the whole time.

The set up is massively complex and you can establish just about any combination of relationship in a multilayered network diagram – but the really great bit is that all you rally want to know is when things go wrong (any colour but green means something is going wrong), and so the mini display option only clutters the desktop with the necessaries. Maybe I’ll say more about this absolute gem next time, every network should have one.