Adobe Acrobat 9 Pro Extended

Adobe's Acrobat gets its most significant upgrade in years. Is it an essential purchase?

IT Pro Verdict

With its incorporation of Flash-based media handling and new integration with, the Acrobat platform fully embraces the internet age - at last.

Adobe Acrobat made its public debut back in 1991 and the PDF (Portable Document Format) it introduced was intended to become the universal format for design-rich, cross-platform electronic communication.

The launch of the World Wide Web in the same year forced Adobe to radically revise its plans, but the Acrobat platform survived and eventually prospered by making itself indispensable in a whole host of workflows situations, from documentation distribution to commercial printing.

Recently however Acrobat has been showing its age and come to feel slow, lumbering and old-fashioned: a dinosaur in today's fast-pace internet age. With the chronically unimpressive version 8 release it even seemed that Acrobat might be reaching the end of its useful life. The good news is that that's not the case at all. In fact version 9 is the most exciting Acrobat release since the launch of the all-important free Reader application.

Back from the dead

This new vitality is evident in the introduction of important new features across all areas of PDF handling and across the entire range of Acrobat authoring tools. It is most obvious, however, in the new, top-of-the-range Adobe Acrobat 9 Extended package.

The source of this new lease of life is clear. It springs from the merging of the previously separate technologies PDF and Flash, and allows Acrobat to leave its static ePaper roots behind. Previous versions of Acrobat already supported the embedding of SWF content, but playback depended on the user having separately installed the Flash player. After its takeover of Macromedia, Adobe has been able to roll the Flash player into Adobe Reader. Universal, reliable and web-efficient media delivery is now integral to the Acrobat platform.

The benefits of this Flash transfusion are most directly felt in the handling of video. The advantages of this for designers are clear, but these days video isn't limited to such high end use. With the ever-increasing spread of webcams and movie-capable cameras and camera phones, video is now an everyday part of computing life. Thanks to Flash, Acrobat now reflects this, making it almost as easy to handle moving images as static pictures.

However there's a problem: Flash only supports its own web-optimised Flash Video (FLV) format. No doubt support for FLV output will spread but in the meantime you'll need a converter. And that's exactly what Acrobat 9 Pro Extended provides. The Video tool lets you import files in a wide range of formats including AVI, MOV, WMV and MPEG, which Acrobat 9 Pro Extended will then automatically convert to FLV, pull out your selected frame as a poster image and wrap everything up in a Flash-based player.

Acrobat's Video tool lets you add impact to existing PDFs but to take full advantage of the new support you'll need a dedicated design environment. No doubt this will come with the next release of Adobe's Creative Suite and the benefits of PDF-based Flash support for the likes of InDesign, Premiere Pro and Encore are enticing.