Adobe Acrobat 8.0 Professional is highly polished software for creating PDFs from scanned documents or onscreen files, and it adds the ability to use PDFs for other purposes, from e-mail archives to Bates-numbered document storage and production. Here’s my first thoughts about the upgrade to version 8.

Acrobat is an expensive piece of software – $160/computer for an upgrade version of Acrobat 8 Professional, $450 for the full version if you don’t have a license code to qualify for an upgrade. There are competing products that claim to be able to produce PDFs for $29, but there are some good reasons to pay the price for the real thing.

Here’s a blog that briefly describes the open nature of the PDF format, which allows competitors to sell cheap software for creating PDF files, as well as allowing software to be sold with built-in PDF converters. (Microsoft offers a PDF add-in for Office 2007; Quickbooks is set up to print invoices as PDFs; WordPerfect has a built-in PDF print driver.)

The article goes on to highlight some of the shortcomings of the third party products. Some of it misses the point – the blog is sponsored by Adobe, after all. In my mind there are two important reasons to spend the money for the full version of Acrobat 8:

  • There are differences between the PDF files produced by different versions of the PDF format. The clone makers either work from an old PDF format that is not completely compatible, or they do a cruddy job of designing their software. One of the comments below the blog points out that when you use the clone products, you’re much more likely to deal with the “inability to open a file, discrepancies between on screen image and printing output, unpredictable results when using the clipboard, problems with text fields, or problems editing content.”
  • Acrobat 8 is successful in large part because its elegant and economical design makes it easy to use, and it adds features that are meaningful. Example: when a document is scanned with Acrobat 8, the program automatically does OCR and saves the text invisibly as part of the PDF file. Indexing programs (Windows Vista, or Windows Desktop Search for Windows XP) then allow you to search instantly for text inside the PDFs.

Many small offices spend surprisingly little on the software that they rely on to get their work done. We have long accepted the cost of Microsoft Office as a basic price of running a computer in a business. Acrobat 8 belongs on that list as well.

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