Which LiveCycle Modules Do I Need?

In my last post, I attempted to draw some basic distinctions between the 14 product modules that make up Adobe LiveCycle.  In reality, there are more like 40 different components under the hood. Fortunately (since 14 modules are difficult enough for most of us to manage), these service components are not licensed individually.  They are packaged into product modules (e.g. LiveCycle Output).  However, this disparity between “license” modules and actual service components can be the source of considerable confusion.  It can especially complicate the, seemingly simply, question, “Which modules do I need?”  This question comes up in almost every LiveCycle conversation, but can be slightly devilish to answer.  Let’s explore why…

At its heart, LiveCycle is a set of service components for processing documents.  The “licensing” modules that so neatly package up these components obscure some important details.  When a customer licenses LiveCycle PDF Generator (PDFG), they get several service components, including:

  • Generate PDF
  • Distiller
  • Assembler
  • Convert PDF Service
  • Doc Converter
  • Encryption Service
  • PDF Utilities
  • XMP Utilities

Similarly, when a customer licenses the Output module, they get:

  • Output
  • Assembler
  • Convert PDF Service
  • Doc Converter
  • Encryption Service
  • PDF Utilities
  • XMP Utilities

Notice that several components are included in both modules.  This complicates the apparently straightforward question, “Do I need PDFG or Output?”  Either may suffice, depending on the requirements.  For example, if you only wanted to use the functionality of the Assembler component, you could purchase either PDFG or Output.  Just to make things really interesting, the Assembler component is also included in the Forms and Content Services product modules.

The challenge is that the questions are generally posed from the perspective of the modules (which is natural since that’s how the product is packaged), but answers must be phrased in terms of service components.  Obviously, the solution is to identify the unique service components that are required and determine the modules based on those.  To that end, Adobe publishes a Service Reference that describes the specific functionality provided by each service (http://help.adobe.com/en_US/livecycle/9.0/services.pdf).  There is also a guide that details which components are included in each module: http://help.adobe.com/en_US/livecycle/9.0/solutioncomponents_api.pdf. These two documents are indispensable in bridging the gap between modules and components to answer the question, “Which LiveCycle modules do I need?”

What is Adobe LiveCycle?

LiveCycle is a large and mature product line that can be a little overwhelming at first.  There are currently 14 different modules listed on the Adobe LiveCycle homepage.  And, this long list doesn’t include a 15th free module, LiveCycle Foundation, that is always included.  Anyone trying to make sense of “what does what” for the first time can quickly become confused. Sometimes it’s difficult to even know which product module to ask about.  Just yesterday, I received a request to demonstrate LiveCycle PDF Generator to someone who wanted to generate PDF letters from a mainframe dataset.  After all, it seems logical that PDF Generator would be the right module for generating PDFs.  Alas, PDF Generator does something else entirely.  LiveCycle Output was the relevant module.

With these challenges in mind, I offer a cheat sheet for those you swimming in a sea of marketing manuscript, buffeted by buzzwords, and tossed from product page to product page with no solution in site.  Ok, maybe it’s too much to expect one blog post to clear all this up, but hopefully if will help you navigate the product line a bit more easily.

“Which is Which” LiveCycle Cheat Sheet

1) Are you interested in building cutting edge web applications (Web 2.0/Rich Internet Applications), especially (though not exclusively) using Adobe Flex and Flash?  If not, skip ahead to part 2.  Are you a Flex developer or enterprise architect?  If not, you may want to go get one because these products are very developer focused.

  • Collaboration Service – Framework for incorporating real-time collaboration into web applications.  Perfect for adding chat, VOIP, webcam, and multi-user whiteboards to your website.
  • Mosaic – Framework for creating enterprise mashups.
  • Data Services – Framework for building enterprise class Flex applications.

2) The rest of the LiveCycle modules deal with document based interaction, rather than web applications.

  • Connectors for ECM – Integration modules for connecting LiveCycle to EMC Documentum, MS SharePoint, IBM ContentServer, and IBM FileNet. If you don’t have one of these systems, move on.
  • Content Services – A content repository with capabilities similar to other enterprise content management solutions (e.g. EMC Documentum, MS SharePoint, IBM ContentServer, IBM FileNet,  Alfresco, Day CRX).  If you already have an ECM solution, see above.
  • Digital Signatures – Offers server based digital signature functionality.  Useful for automating verification of digital signatures when collecting large volumes of digitally signed documents.  By analogy, this is like checking to make certain the name on the credit card a person is using matches the name on their driver’s license.   Also supports automated creation of digitally signed documents  for organizations that want to tamper-proof their documents.  For example, an official record might be sealed with a digital signature to prove that it has not been tampered with or a statement might be certified so the recipient can verify that the statement is from their bank and not a Russian hacker (no offense Russia).  Note, if you want people to be able to digitally sign PDFs using Adobe Reader, that functionality is part of LiveCycle Reader Extensions (see below).
  • Foundation – Plumbing to connect LiveCycle to core IT infrastructure (databases, email, LDAP, FTP, JMS, etc…).  Always included, always free.
  • Forms – Used for manipulating interactive forms.  Creates PDF, HTML, or Flash forms from interactive form templates (XDP) created with LiveCycle Designer, the suite’s form editor.  Also includes form data integration tools for extracting data from forms or pre-filling forms with data.
  • Output – Focuses on non-interactive “flat” documents (as opposed to interactive forms). For example, a utility company might use Output to create a batch of account statements for its customers. Data from a database would be merged into a letter template, creating thousands of personalized statements. These statements are non-interactive, read-only documents. All of the Output operations deal with either creating flat documents or printing them.  As noted above, the LiveCycle Forms module also merges data into templates to create PDFs, but it deals with interactive forms.
  • PDF Generator – Converts non-PDF documents to PDF.  Also converts PDFs to non-PDF formats (DOC, HTML, XML, etc…).  Obviously, many people use Acrobat to convert documents to PDF on their personal workstations.  PDF Generator provides scalability and automation not available in Acrobat.  While Acrobat might be a great solution for converting 20 documents, PDF Generator would be a better solution for converting 20,000 documents as part of a structured business process.
  • Process Management (Business Activity Monitoring) – Assign, manage, track, and report on human-based interactions.  For example, an electronically submitted purchase request form may need to be routed to several individuals for approval as part of an organization’s standard operating procedures.  Already have a BPM solution in your organization?  No problem.  LiveCycle can integrate via simple web service calls and work as sub-system of the organization’s BPM solution for managing document based interactions (an area where most enterprise BPM solutions fall short).
  • Production Print – Similar to Output but targeted at very high volume print operations.  For example, if you need to produce 3,000,000 10-page personalized account statements and envelope them for mailing on a monthly basis, this module can help.  Organizations with lower volume printing needs should consider LiveCycle Output.
  • Reader Extensions – Turns the free Adobe Reader into a full featured client for electronic forms.  Reader Extension Server add a credential to PDF files that instructs Adobe Reader to enable functionality that is disabled otherwise.  This credential can permit end users to:
  1. Digitally sign the PDF using a PKI-based digital certificate issued by Entrust, Verisign, or others.
  2. Save data entered into the PDF. Otherwise, all user entered data is lost when the file is closed.
  3. Encode data into barcodes embedded in the document.  The barcoded data can be collected by scanner when the document is printed and mailed. Especially helpful when documents be signed with ink rather than electronically.
  4. Electronically stamp and annotate documents using the Comment and Markup Toolbar otherwise only available in Adobe Acrobat.
  5. Add attachments to files.  For example, a user might need to attach a scanned in receipt to an expense report.
  6. Electronically submit files via email or without a web browser (i.e. when the user has opened a PDF stored on their hard disk rather than from a website).
  7. Access databases and web services in real-time directly from the document.
  • Rights Management – Provides Digital Rights Management (DRM) capabilities for PDF, MS Office, and CAD documents.  Normally, files cannot be retracted after the file is distributed.  If you email me a file, you can’t take it away from me, ever. Rights Management allows files to be encrypted before distribution.  When a user attempts to open the file, Adobe Reader (or MS Office) checks with the Rights Management server to determine whether or not the user is allowed to decrypt the file and what features should be enabled/disabled after decryption.  Thus, central control can be maintained even though the document has been sent out.  An organization can disable access to the document at any time for any user.

Clearly, this is just a first pass.  Your comments and feedback are welcomed to help evolve this into a more useful resource.

The focus of the Output service component is on non-interactive “flat” documents. For example, a utility company might use Output to create a batch of account statements for its customers. Data from a database would be merged into a letter template, creating thousands of personalized statements. These statements are non-interactive, read-only documents. All of the Output operations deal with either creating flat documents or printing them. The LiveCycle Forms module also merges data into templates to create PDFs, but it deals with interactive forms.

Welcome

Notes from the Field is a blog dedicated to helping people better understand Adobe LiveCycle. As a solution engineer for LiveCycle, much of my time is spent answering customer questions about LiveCycle. As you can imagine, many of these questions come up repeatedly. This blog will attempt to consolidate answers to those common question and other helpful LiveCycle related information in one place.