Adobe Systems' beta release of the free Acrobat.com suite Monday should appeal to small-business users. In our early tests, the stand-outs are tools for Web conferencing and directly sharing text and PDF documents.
Acrobat.com includes a Web-based word processor, conferencing and remote access, PDF creation, and 5 gigabytes of file storage.
I like the services' uncomplicated, charcoal-background interfaces. Like other online word processors, Buzzword is no Microsoft Word killer, but speedy enough to serve as a go-anywhere text editor. Documents can be exported as Microsoft Word DOC or DOCX; PDF; rich text; HTML; or XML.
Inviting someone else to edit a file takes one step, although my colleague Josh Lowensohn, on the other end, had problems initially logging in for access. I'm hoping that Adobe removes the log-in speed bumps.
Once you're in, conferencing capabilities shine in Acrobat.com. In addition to one-off invitations to view and edit a Buzzword document, it's easy to launch an impromptu meeting. The Meet button in Buzzword opens Acrobat ConnectNow, a lightweight cousin of Acrobat Connect Pro, announced earlier this month.
ConnectNow enables screen sharing, chatting with a headset and Webcam, whiteboarding, and phone conferencing. Once I accepted the ConnectNow add-in, it switched from the browser to its own window, which then appeared in front of other windows to display chatting and Webcam views. You can allow a user to control your desktop remotely, and cut them off just as quickly. Other than the log-in glitch, the ease of use might bring a frown to the folks at WebEx, owned by Cisco Systems.
Makers of online office suites like Zoho and ThinkFree, on the other hand, needn't worry, for now at least. Buzzword as a standalone word processor is pretty, though unremarkable. It offers only seven fonts alongside basic text choices such as bold and strikethrough, with some more color choices than Google Docs and other online word processors. By contrast, Google Docs allows 10 fonts and ThinkFree provides more than five dozen. I'd like more formatting options if I were using Buzzword as a starting point to make interactive and print-ready PDFs.
Keyboard shortcuts work, such as CTRL-Z on a PC to undo the last action. Still, some annoyances to typing within a Flash environment include disabled options, such as Copy and Paste, that otherwise appear when you click the right mouse key in Windows. And CTRL-F to search for text sometimes failed.
Buzzword does let you draw tables and bullet points, and insert images. Special characters for typing accent marks in other languages are easy to find. Red squiggles underline potentially misspelled words and suggest alternatives. There's a running word count and link to a history of edits at the bottom of the screen.
That's not enough to make me ditch more than two years of relying upon Google Docs & Spreadsheets. Nevertheless, the Adobe online suite should lure business users who already make a lot of PDFs and may not bother to jump to another brand for online conferencing.
Acrobat 9 software, due for stores in July, will stand out for being able to bundle video and animation within PDFs, enriching the online life of a format originally focused around the printed page.
But Buzzword doesn't appear to embed videos. Nor can you use Acrobat.com beta's PDF creator to bundle MOV or other video and animation file types into Portable Document Format.
Doing so would require Acrobat 9, but its starting price of $299 will deter people on a budget from exploring its rich features. They may already turn to free, third-party apps or online converters to make flat PDFs for printing.
Adobe should make even more goodies available for free or at a lower price if it aims for PDFs to get rich quickly with Flash videos, PowerPoint files, and even applications and games. Such creation capabilities remain in the hands of those who can spend hundreds of dollars on Acrobat 9. Google gave away Maps, Earth, and SketchUp, after all.
For example, PDF geospatial mapping, a plus for architects or city planners, will only be available in the $699 Acrobat Pro Extended 9.
Adobe already offered the online Photoshop Express and is hinting that the desktop app may become extensible within widgets. It remains to be seen how the company will integrate its new online services with the next, hulking Creative Suite, expected this fall.