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SharePoint and Shared Reviews vs. Check-in

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I got the following question from a customer the other day and it got me thinking.

We want to be able to do simultaneous commenting (adding sticky notes, highlighting, etc.) on PDF documents hosted on SharePoint

Acrobat and Reader X now support check-in and check-out of SharePoint. You’ve been able to use SharePoint as a repository for Shared Reviews for several versions of Acrobat but that didn’t require check-in and check-out. So the question now becomes, what’s the recommended way of commenting on a PDF file now that you can check it out of SharePoint, comment on it and then check it back in?

First some clarification. The Acrobat X “Shared Review” function will allow you to store a document on a SharePoint server (or any server really) and then set SharePoint as a repository for comments so that all commenters can see all comments at the same time. The original file is untouched on the server; the comments are stored separately as an overlay and managed by SharePoint. When a user opens the file, Acrobat reaches out to SharePoint and retrieves the comments dynamically. Because the underlying document is treated by Acrobat as read-only, this method does not require the document to be checked-out to comment… remember, comments are stored separately. This method has the added advantage of being able to send the PDF file to someone who does not have access to the SharePoint server, have them comment on it in Acrobat or Reader, send it back to you and have the comments integrated into the SharePoint repository by the original sender – automatically. It’s a great way to collect feedback from your supply chain or vendors. Additionally, this method is backward compatible to version 7 of Reader and Acrobat.

You can alternatively upload a PDF file to SharePoint and have a commenting free-for-all without using the above workflow. However, there is a price. The document will need to be checked-out by anyone wishing to comment. This means only one commenter can be commenting at a time and will need to check-in the document when finished which could, though not necessarily, create a new “version” of the document in SharePoint. Additionally, in this use case, the comments are stored inside the document and commenters are able to delete each others comments; not good. This method requires everyone to be on Acrobat X because only Acrobat X supports SharePoint check-in/out and versioning.

So – after all that… I recommend that users of SharePoint continue to use Shared Reviews if they want to collect feedback on PDF documents even though we support check-in and check-out.