The 64-bit versions of Microsoft Office 2010 are now fully supported with the release of Adobe Acrobat X, Version 10.1. Previously, the Acrobat Ribbon, otherwise known as PDFMaker, only functioned in the 32-bit versions of Office 2010. With this new update, I thought I’d revisit the differences between using Acrobat X to create PDF files from Office documents versus using the native Office “Save As” functionality and then choosing PDF. Admittedly, I’m more than a little biased on this topic, not just because I work for Adobe but because I wrote the original prototype for this functionality way back in 1993 with the release of Acrobat 1.0. Tragically, even that simple macro that I wrote nearly 20 years ago, in some ways, had more functionality that what Microsoft is doing with their "Save As" today.
Here’s a comprehensive list of what Acrobat X can do when converting to PDF that Office 2010 cannot. If you’re using PDF files because sharing your documents with the fidelity and consistency that PDF files provide, you’ll want to consider exactly what it is that you’re not getting from Office native PDF creation.
Functionality Common to Word, Excel, PowerPoint
Security requirements range from relatively simple measures to sophisticated systems adopted by corporations and agencies. Which you choose depends on what you want to achieve. Here are some examples:
- You want only certain people to view your PDF file. The easiest solution is to add a password to the PDF and send it to your intended recipients along with the password, though you may want to do that in separate emails.
- You don’t want anyone to print or modify your PDF file. You may want to block printing or modifying a document but don’t want to prevent people from opening it. A press release is a great example of a document you want to distribute freely but definitely don’t want anyone to modify, though you may want them to be able to leave sticky notes or other comments.
- You want to assure your recipients that the PDF is really from you. Wouldn’t it be nice if that PDF file of your bank statement were certified in some way that you could tell it hadn’t been tampered with.
- You want an organization-wide security solution for PDF files. Some organizations could really use a solution specifically for handling sensitive data. Let’s face it, we’re living in a Wikileaks world.
Microsoft gives you the option of securing the PDF file with an "open" password and uses 128-bit AES encryption. Users need to know the password in order to open the file but once opened, they can do pretty much whatever they want.
On the other hand, Acrobat X gives you the choice of using the 256-bit AES encryption as well as 128-bit. Additionally, Acrobat X allows you to set an "open" password as well as a "permissions" password. When you set only a permissions password, users don’t need a password to open the document but it still allows you to control exactly what the user can do with your document once it is opened. For example, you can prevent the copying of text if you are a book publisher or you can prevent changes to the document other than making comments.
Now, if that’s not enough, Acrobat X also adds two additional security options. Certificate based security and the ability to leverage the Adobe LiveCycle Rights Management ES server.
When you secure a PDF file using a certificate, you specify the recipients and define the file access level for each recipient or group. For example, you can allow one group to sign and fill forms and another to edit text or remove pages. You can choose certificates from your list of trusted identities, files on disk, LDAP server, or the Windows certificate store (Windows only).
When you secure a PDF file using Adobe LiveCycle Rights Management ES
security policies are stored on a server running Adobe LiveCycle Rights Management ES, but the PDFs are not. Users are required to connect to the server to open or continue to use PDF files to which a security policy is applied. Access to PDF files can even be revoked at the server which essentially remotely "shreds" any document that is been distributed to the wrong individuals.
Support for PDF and PDF-based ISO Standards:
Microsoft gives you only one choice for the ISO standard subsets of the PDF specification, which is also an ISO standard, and that’s PDF/A. Acrobat X lets you create multiple flavors of PDF/A and PDF/X depending on your specific needs. While to the average Office user, the differences in the PDF/A versions may be too esoteric to care about, the documents that you create often have a life of their own far beyond your immediate audience. Often times PDF documents need to be retained for years due to government regulations. Your legal team and corporate archivist will need the highest conforming PDF files for long term storage as PDF/A.
If you’ve ever needed to print a PDF file using someone else’s computer, like at a copy shop or sent if off for commercial printing, you’ll want to save it as a PDF/X file.
"PDF/X is an umbrella term for several ISO standards that define a subset of the PDF standard. The purpose of PDF/X is to facilitate graphics exchange, and it therefore has a series of printing related requirements which do not apply to standard PDF files. For example, in PDF/X-1a all fonts need to be embedded and all images need to be CMYK or spot colors. PDF/X-3 accepts calibrated RGB and CIELAB colors, while retaining most of the other restrictions of PDF/X-1a." – Wikipedia
In short, a properly created PDF/X file can be nearly bullet proof when going to print, there won’t be any surprises when you go to pick up the finished job.
Microsoft gives you two choices for controlling the file size of your PDF file, "Standard" and "Minimum" and no explanation of exactly what that means and no way to control what happens when "Minimum" is selected. Acrobat X, right from inside Word, gives you fine control over just about every option for embedding fonts, downsampling images, compression algorithms and generally tuning the size of the final PDF file. You can even create custom settings files and deploy those with the application when you install across the enterprise.
Better Integration with Office:
Acrobat X will automatically include the document information in the resulting PDF file including custom metadata, Office only includes title, subject, author and keywords. The Acrobat Ribbon can also be used to generate an email message and attach a PDF version of the document you are working on or initiate a Shared Review of a PDF file right from inside Office, you don’t need to leave Office and open Acrobat.
Functionality Specific to Word
Probably one of the most important features for long documents is the ability for Word Headings, Styles and Bookmarks to be retained in PDF using PDFMaker. Microsoft’s "Save as PDF" provides the option to retain either Word Headings or Word Bookmarks, only one option at a time. This is quite a limitation for longer documents which can cause navigation problems and generally makes the document harder to use. In addition to these navigational aides, PDFMaker retains intra/inter-document links, cross-references, endnotes and footnotes as links in the PDF file. In short, Acrobat X leverages all of the intelligence that you’ve added to your Word document when creating the PDF version.
One of the features that Acrobat X has that is perfectly suited to the way we do business today is the ability to do a mail merge to PDF. Mail merges from Word generate documents like form letters—for one common example—which are personalized with information like the names and addresses of the individuals to whom they will be sent. With Acrobat PDFMaker, you can save steps by using a Word mail merge document and corresponding data file to output mail merges directly to PDF. You can even set up PDFMaker to attach those PDFs to email messages that are generated during the PDF-creation process. If you need this type of functionality, the time savings is easily worth the price of a copy of Acrobat X.
Functionality Specific to Excel
Sending out a PDF version of an Excel file is a great way to prevent recipients from modifying the formulas but large spreadsheets can be problematic to navigate as a PDF file. Acrobat X creates a far more navigable PDF file than the built in Office functionality by providing options to either choose sheets to convert, convert a selection or the entire workbook. Additionally, comments in cells are retained as annotations in PDF. To help even further with navigation, intra-document references are converted to links in the PDFand bookmarks are created for worksheets. You can even control how the PDF file is scaled with options to "Fit Worksheet to a single page" or "Fit to paper width" which helps preserve the look-and-feel of the source Workbook.
Functionality Specific to PowerPoint
Converting a PowerPoint presentation to PDF is a great way to preserve the exact look and feel of your document and both Word’s native capability and Acrobat X do a great job. Acrobat X takes the conversion to the next level though making content reuse and navigation of long sets of slides much easier. Acrobat X can convert speaker notes to annotations, retain embedded video, audio and Flash content in the resulting PDF file. Acrobat X can also optionally convert hidden slides as PDF pages and preserve slide transitions (though not animations – use Presenter for that). To aide navigation Acrobat X also creates bookmarks for each slide based on the title and retains intra/inter-document links.
Functionality Specific to Outlook
One of the applications that Microsoft does not support with "Save As PDF is Outlook". If you’re like me, you live and breath Outlook all day, every day. Having PDF functionality built into Outlook through the PDFMakers has saved me on more than one occasion. One of the major problems I have with Outlook is the fact that it gets really, really slow when my mailbox gets big, which is almost a permanent state these days. The ability to archive off all emails for a completed project is incredible. With Acrobat X you can archive email conversations into a structured PDF Portfolio, retaining folder and message information including attachments in their original format. Acrobat X automatically creates an index inside the portfolio for faster search. Acrobat X even let the archival process be automated, providing options for daily, weekly or monthly.
If you are a user of Microsoft Office… and who isn’t these days… and the use of PDF files is important to your business or just your own personal productivity, don’t settle for the built-in functionality that’s provided by Office. Acrobat X is the perfect compliment to Office, it makes better, more robust PDF files that save you time and keep your information secure.