A PDF form enabled for Reader Save in Acrobat 8 Professional may now be completed and SAVED using the free Adobe Reader!
From the introduction of forms technology to PDF nine years ago until today, users with the free Adobe Reader could certainly fill out and print a PDF form (if, in fact, it included form-fields), or submit the form to a server, but that was the limit. Could they save their work along the way? No. Could they fill out part of a form, and pass it to a coworker to check over and complete? Nope.
PDF forms offer an easy yet sophisticated way to move existing business-processes from paper to the computer without losing the connection with paper workflows. This capacity was intentionally hobbled in the free Adobe Reader, sending most users to the printer once they’d filled-out a form. Quite apart from end-user frustration, the limitation effectively precluded implementation of PDF forms in many distributed applications where end-users could not be expected to own Adobe’s $300 Acrobat Standard software.
PDF forms exploded nonetheless. From the IRS to the smallest non-profit, organizations everywhere found a myriad ways to to use PDF forms, Reader Save or no. The ability to add typed text to a form that would faithfully reproduce itself when printed was an obvious winner.
Naturally, almost as soon as the forms capability was introduced to PDF in Acrobat, users and third-party developers alike began asking for (nay, demanding!) the ability to save completed forms to the user’s own computer using the free Reader. The absence of the feature was (rightly) regarded as the single biggest barrier to wholesale implementation of PDF forms. Adobe Systems understood this, but also understood that Reader Save had major revenue potential, and thus were in no hurry to give it away for free.
After an abortive attempt at a low-cost “Reader + Save” product called Acrobat Approval, (junked to howls of protest from 3rd party PDF developers), Adobe Systems faced the demand for “Reader Save” capability with the development of the Adobe LiveCycle Reader Extensions Server (ARES), the basic purpose of which is to “bless” PDF files with various “extended rights” – including the ability to be saved with Adobe Reader.
ARES remains very, very expensive, and the typical customer is a large corporation or government agency with a major forms headache and a server software budget in the high five figures. The lack of a affordable Reader Save solution helped foster the so-called “Acrobat Alternatives”, including ARTS Nitro PDF, Nuance’s PDF Converter and Global Graphics’ JAWS PDF Editor. Besides replicating many of the most popular functions in Adobe Acrobat Standard and Professional, these lower-priced products allow users to fill and SAVE a form right there on their own computer.
And then, late last year came word of Microsoft’s foray into PDF creation. Ouch. So what does Adobe do? It was time for the heavy artillery.
The Acrobat Alternatives and Microsoft’s PDF software exist only because Adobe Systems elected to publish the PDF Reference. This move made it possible for any sufficiently competent software developer to create and edit PDF files without any Adobe software. This was, in a sense, a calculated risk. The move could spawn competitors to Acrobat, but on the other hand, a world awash in PDF (from whatever source) could only be a good thing.
What Adobe did NOT give away, of course, is the code for the free Adobe Reader. This ubiquitous software, installed on hundreds of millions of computers worldwide, is Adobe’s “special sauce”, for only they can build features into Reader that PDF files can unlock.
Even with all of the advanced capabilities in Acrobat 7, most people still buy the software because it can make PDFs, period. The “higher” capabilities of the PDF format barely register for most developers and decision-makers, and are rarely utilized.
Adobe had to change that, or risk increasing peril to the Acrobat franchise. With the announcement of Acrobat 8, Adobe can (and I believe, will) move beyond the perception that “Acrobat is for making PDFs, Reader is for Viewing PDFs”. The ability to add Reader Save capabilities to PDF files creates a compelling reason to purchase Adobe’s own desktop software for creating and managing PDF files – Adobe Acrobat and Acrobat Professional – before any others. Awareness, interest in and adoption of PDF as an electronic document in its own right, not merely as a conveyance for a consistent printout, is about to take off.
by Duff Johnson