It seems no practice can afford to be without the latest version of Acrobat and new modelling tool on the block, SketchUp Acrobat 6.0 PROS: lA secure digital format that lawyers like lAn interface that your grey, dusty senior partner could use CONS: lIt will probably cost another £115 next year when version 7 comes out Adobe Acrobat's ubiquitous Portable Document Format (*.PDF) has become the de-facto standard for moving documents around in a single, viewable and printable file format. It is as sharp when printed from the free viewer as it would have been if printed directly from its originating application, and it is small enough to be pushed around the internet as an attachment to emails.
Most software applications are now delivered with manuals in PDF format, and 10 of the big PC manufacturers now ship new computers with Acrobat reader pre-installed.
So, considering that the viewing software is free to download (more than half a billion copies have been downloaded to date), where does Adobe make its money? In the authoring application, of course.
The latest full version of Acrobat has just hit the streets and has been appropriately, if unimaginatively, named 'Acrobat Professional 6.0'.
I have to confess I am a fan of PDF for two simple reasons:
llawyers use it for recording and distributing documents in a secure, read-only format; and lalmost every computer user has at some time viewed PDF files.
These two reasons were, in my view, always sufficient to justify purchasing Acrobat. But with version 6 there is a raft of new reasons for architects to get on the PDF bandwagon.
Originally created by Adobe for the print and pre-press market, PDF was designed to make printing text-based documents with some graphics and images consistent across different platforms. Over time, it has grown in flexibility and now includes the ability to create PDFs of drawings while maintaining the CAD layering structure.
When you install Acrobat Professional many applications it dovetails with gain three icons and an extra pull-down menu. The icons give ready access to:
lconvert to PDF;
lconvert to PDF and email; and lconvert to PDF and send for review.
The first two are pretty much selfexplanatory. The third takes the collaboration one step further, creating a standard email with instructions for the commenting procedure. Once these comments are complete, the reviewer only needs to click on the 'Send Comments' button to return them to the author.
The review tools include the ability to measure directly from drawings, add revision bubbles and notes and compare two documents side by side, with differences highlighted in each file. Large-format paper sizes now include everything up to A0. After reviewing a PDF of a Word document, your comments can be merged with the original as track changes.
This enables many different people to add comments to a PDF before merging and accepting/rejecting those comments in the original Word file.
Following the same principle of distributing a common document for review/comment, Adobe has introduced the ability to create forms with input fields, so that the document will only allow users to edit or change data in predefined fields. I can imagine RFIs and snagging templates being prepared in PDF format for recording only relevant information on a PDA or tablet PC out on site.
However, if these comments during the review stage were uncontrolled, or if elements of the original became open to change and therefore abuse, the PDF format would fall at the first hurdle. Naturally, Adobe thought about this some time ago when it introduced password protection for files, and it has further enhanced the levels of security in version 6.
The strength of Acrobat's security is reinforced by its adoption by legal firms the world over. Historically, any technology adopted and endorsed by lawyers will sooner or later (ie when they deem it necessary for their own business requirements) become acceptable in a court of law as documentary evidence. It happened with the fax machine and I believe the same will apply to PDF. At this point, PDF will become the natural storage format for all issued drawings and correspondence and, as the source code for the PDF format is listed publicly, it is a true 'open format' so you can never be locked out of your own data (see 'Access denied', AJ 19.6.03).
Another great feature of PDF is the ability to 'bind' together a number of documents from disparate sources in a single, indexed and secure document. Imagine you are creating a presentation document that requires CAD drawings, text, graphics and legacy scanned data.
Without Acrobat you would be forced to make sacrifices in different areas to achieve the whole, either in the quality of the CAD drawings or in the scanned legacy data, or even the graphics. But thanks to PDF's Post script there is no loss of printed quality at any stage.
I have used Acrobat successfully on the recent redevelopment of my house for exactly that. Combining many different sources of information, including CAD, web pages, Excel and Word, into a single PDF document has meant that package development and delivery have been a breeze, and the technophobic contracts manager loves it.
Adobe's PDF format has, in my mind, no rivals for ease of use or depth of content value for engineering documents. There isn't an architect's office in the country that couldn't benefit from Acrobat professional - and at £375 (or £115 to upgrade from earlier versions) I find it hard to believe there is a practice that couldn't afford it either.
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