Adobe Acrobat 5 has a number of new features added since its predecessor, Acrobat 4, was released. These include security, document tagging, improved forms functions, and improved accessibility for vision-impaired readers. This user’s guide distinguishes itself from Adobe’s online manual by its use of scenarios: rather than simply explaining how to use certificates or how to embed document tags, each topic is prefaced by an example situation for deploying these features. The book moves from the basics of defining a portable document file (PDF) to more complex topics, such as how to create reusable forms, how indexing and Adobe Catalogue work, how security and certificates can be implemented, and how Acrobat can be used for document collaboration in a networked environment.
The guide claims to be written for professionals in business or design for whom document creation, document management, and related workflow are part of their job. However, anyone who wants to use Acrobat for more than just reading PDF files, and who prefers paper to online help, will find this text useful, especially if that user is an ardent Microsoft Windows and Office user.
Baker’s text defiantly places the integration that Adobe supports for the Window’s Office suite via PDFMaker in the foreground. The author rarely touches on different approaches required, either for the Macintosh operating system (MacOS), or for Windows users who do not rely primarily on Office or other Adobe software for document design. All illustrations in the text are from the Windows version of Acrobat and from Office tools. When MacOS is mentioned, it is with respect to the older OS9, not OSX, which has integrated PDF support. Acrobat on Mac OS9 and MacOSX is distinct enough from its Windows cousin that Mac users need workarounds to create (usually manually) everything from bookmarks and tagged content to embedded URLs.
Whole sections of the book are Windows/Word-specific. The reader will look fruitlessly for alternative methods. For instance, the book relies on Windows-based Word files or HTML Web pages for the development of tagged PDF files. Tagged files are used to note document structure like paragraphs and headers, for reflowing content for different devices, or for screen reading, allowing users to navigate by document structure. What is someone who does not use Word or Web pages to do when they want to create reflowable content? A book that offered such hints would be valuable. The provision of tables throughout the text to highlight these distinctions would also be helpful. Nor will a reader be able to zero in on where these differences are, since the glossary has no entries for Mac, Unix, or Linux. While Acrobat 5 is not available for Linux, for instance, Adobe Acrobat Distiller, is. Distiller, included with Acrobat, supports conversion of postscript files to PDF. Much of the book’s intended “professional design” audience uses MacOS for design. These users are also frequently connected to enterprise-level Unix servers for file management. Not to index or table or discuss Acrobat’s distinctions for these users seems a critical oversight, leaving these users to hack their own solutions; exactly the problem a “user’s guide” is supposed to address.
The coverage of document tagging, metadata, and their relationship with XML, is weak. For instance, in a book with a user-level tag of “advanced,” it is surprising that there is no mention of how Acrobat’s XML may or may not be able to access external stylesheets when reflowing a document for another device.
Similarly, the author’s tone is frequently cloying, with its first person observations like “if this gig doesn’t work out, maybe I can write ad copy for a cruise line!” Chapter headers such as “Publishing - What a Concept” or “For all the Mighty Brains Out There,” are equally irritating, as if the editors forgot that the book is part of the “Professional,” not the “Idiots” or “Dummies” series.
Despite the weaknesses outlined above, the topic coverage is good, although biased. The book presents Acrobat without any acknowledgement or critique of any of its weaknesses. This is not helpful for the practitioner who has to deal with occasionally maddening problems with PDFs of images that appear on screen but do not print, or strange formatting gremlins that do not appear in the document source (frequently a Word file), but do in the Acrobat-created PDF.
Overall, if the reader is a Windows/Office user, wants to take advantage of the more intrigued options of Acrobat 5, and can filter out authorial asides, this text may be the right choice.