Has Adobe Taken a Wrong Turn with Acrobat 9?

This week, Adobe announced details of the next iteration of its Acrobat line of products, due in late June or early July. Perhaps the most prominent new feature of Acrobat 9 will be the ability to embed live Flash animation and video directly into PDF documents.

But while this capability sounds appealing, I can't help but be skeptical. PDF stands for Portable Document Format. It seems to me that this new direction that Adobe is taking in some ways flies against the original idea of what PDF is all about.

For starters, adding Flash to PDF documents is instantly going to make them a whole lot less portable. Flash support is nearly ubiquitous on the Windows and Mac OS platforms, but Adobe's track record with Flash on Linux leaves something to be desired. Also, there are a whole lot of handhelds and other devices that can render PDF documents just fine, but lack the power to render video animation.

Second, if something is moving, dancing, and singing across the screen, is it still a "document"? Historically, PDF has been a way to deliver nicely formatted, graphically rich pages in an electronic way. One of the most popular uses of PDFs, in fact, is to print them out on plain, old-fashioned paper. What happens when you go to print a document with embedded video? If nothing else, the printout will not be an accurate representation of the original file.

One of PDF's strengths has been that it has been somewhat less of a moving target than online file formats, such as Flash. By wedding the two, Adobe risks lessening the value of one of its strongest properties.

What's more, if Adobe is now positioning PDF as primarily an online (or mixed-media) file format, what message does that send to the print publishing community, which has long relied on PDF to manage prepress workflows? Will Adobe continue to act with their best interests at heart?

Though the distinctions are subtle, the new features of Acrobat 9 seem likely to create confusion about PDF in the minds of customers. I wonder if, in its zeal to be viewed as a major player in the online content creation business, Adobe might be taking a wrong turn here.

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