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Flipping for Acrobat

Plugins Bring New Power to Adobe Acrobat 4 By Tim Wilson
For better and for worse, we live in a cross-platform world. From the time it was introduced, Adobe Acrobat has done wonders to alleviate the pain of those of us who daily cross that divide through its Portable Document Format (PDF). While most of us first encountered Acrobat in its plug-in form, it has grown well beyond that, offering support for hypertext and multimedia, again with the confidence of knowing that the message would arrive intact in the journey across platforms.

Adding to the pain of web designers who come from print backgrounds is knowing that our designs can be distorted in all sorts of painful ways by the freedom of surfers to set their own preferences on how pages appear. Mac designers have the added pain of knowing that their designs are almost inevitably going to look huge and gangly on Windows browsers. Acrobat 4 added a number of feature for both web designers and web surfers alike to make the cross-platform web a friendlier place.

Which made all the more exasperating that some of Acrobat 4's coolest new features were only available to Windows users. Until now, that is, with four free plug-ins from Adobe adding those features for users of the Macintosh version of Acrobat 4 ? Macrobats, if you will.They're deliverable as a single download from the Adobe website, where you can also find information on getting them delivered on CD. The four plug-ins are Web Capture, Digital Signatures, Compare Pages, and Send Mail. They're all worthwhile, if for no other reason than knowing that we Mac users are a step closer to feature parity. But two in particular actually do a lot to extend the power of Acrobat, which is what we here at Plug-in Central are all about.

Web Capture
I have to tell you that I'm absolutely amazed by the new Acrobat feature called Web Capture. (Well, new-ish for Mac users anyway.) It starts with a simple enough, but very cool idea, which is the ability to convert a single web page or even an entire website to a single PDF. You can then store it on your hard drive for offline viewing and printing. This image from Adobe gives you an idea of just how simple it is.

Saving a single page is easy: type in the URL and let 'er rip. Converting entire sites is only slightly more complex. Here's how slight: you have to set how many layers deep you go. For example, by selecting 2 levels deep, you'll get each page on a site (that's one level deep), plus the first page for each link on each of those pages (that's 2).

Two other settings you'll want to note are Only Get Pages on Same Path, and Stay on Same Server, so that you don't start also collecting the first pages from other sites linked from the pages you collect. Do pay attention to these settings, especially on sites like Digital Media Net, which passed a million pages a few months back.

Because Acrobat fully supports hypertext and other rich media, of course, all of the links stay live, the QuickTime movies play, and so on. As you select links for pages beyond the ones you've captured, Acrobat automatically establishes your internet connection and takes you there. In the meantime, all the images, colors and formatting of your collected pages are intact for you to browse at your leisure, preserve for reference, and more.

How much more? Lots. First, you can create bookmarks from the HTML tags of the pages you've captured, and add headers and footers to the PDF pages for printing.

Beyond that, you can use the PDF you've created from a website to act as a dynamic spider, automatically sweeping through your favorite pages or sites, looking for what's new, and updating your PDF with only the information that's changed. It's literally as simple as selecting Refresh Pages from the Web Capture menu.

You can focus this even more tightly by creating a list of favorite URLs in Adobe Acrobat Distiller, and render it in PDF. Then, at the beginning of the Web Capture process, insert this PDF document instead of a single URL, and all of the sites included are dynamically updated!

Web Capture for Designers
That's all good clean fun for web surfers, but Web Capture offers benefits for designers, too. It's not uncommon for us to archive sites for distribution to clients, adding to our portfolios and so on, but we still often leave the display of our work to the vagaries of browsers. The part of us that's anal-retentive about wanting things looking the way the way we want them to ? i.e., pretty much every fiber of our being ? has got to love this alternative instead: deliver our websites as PDFs, looking exactly the way we want, fully live and functional, beyond the fouling reach of the unreliable taste of our clients' browser settings.

(Note to my clients: of course I'm not talking about you. I'm talking about those other clowns I work for.)

And because they're delivered as PDFs, they can easily be emailed for review, then annotated and otherwise marked up at the other end. It makes long distance collaboration immensely easier because the notes are already in writing, placed exactly where they need to be within the document, ready for you to make the necessary changes.

Web designers and administrators aren't the only folks who can benefit from Web Capture for document development. Anyone who wants to incorporate captured web pages into their own PDF documents, whether the sites of competitors for sales reports, or pages from your own site for presentation on calls. Upcoming articles in this series will talk about using plug-ins to incorporate PDF elements in a variety of other settings, including Director animations, 3D and more, but for now, let's finish taking a look at some of the features that these new plug-ins are adding to Acrobat 4 on the Mac.

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Related Keywords:Adobe Acrobat, Portable Document Format , PDF,


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