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Acrobat 6.0 and Adobe's Attempt to move into the CAD market.

With Adobe's announcement of the upcoming Acrobat 6.0 family of products and more specifically the Acrobat Professional 6.0 there have been several inquires as to what this means to us and our AcroPlot product.

We'll in a nutshell I say bring it on!  The greatest marketing in the world is to be able to run circles around a product that is 3 times the cost.  Now instead of competing against Adobe Acrobat at $249 the assumption will be to do AutoCAD drawings you will need the Adobe Acrobat Professional at $449.  I may have to raise the price of AcroPlot just so it will be taken seriously.  I used to feel good that AcroPlot essentially runs circles around AutoCAD's own batch plot ability but now we run circles around Adobe's own ability to create PDF files from AutoCAD.  Not that we haven't been running circles around Adobe for over a year now, but now they have an AutoCAD specific solution we can run circles around.

And on top of it our AcroPlot Pro program is evolving to support other formats like the Autodesk DWF format and creating a multi-page DWF format just like we are doing with the PDF format so you will be able to do both formats from a single solution.

Even though I seriously think AcroPlot runs circles around all of our competition I will say that even our competitors are going to have better solutions than Adobe when it comes to converting CAD files.  The CAD market is maybe at best 5% of Adobe's overall market.  So don't think that they are going to spend major resources coming up with a great solution.  But they have recognized that the PDF is an excellent way to transmit drawings and they are doing everything they can to make money off it.

 

The major problems I see with the Adobe Acrobat 6.0 is:

1.) Cost.
You're crazy if you are going to spend $449 per seat to create a PDF from just the current AutoCAD drawing.  If you really need to eat up your budget buy our AcroPlot for that cost and I'll throw in one of my gas-powered blenders also.  Even the upgrade form the $249 regular version to the $449 professional version is a bit much for outputting the current drawing.

2.) The format itself.
The beauty of the PDF has been that everyone can read it on just about any computer.  I still tell people that it is best to save in Acrobat 4.0 format because then just about everyone can read it.  If you want to create the Acrobat 6.0 files then you better realize that for the first few years your clients may have to upgrade their reader to properly read your PDF files.

3.) The government.
We may not be a communist state but the government still indirectly controls much of what we do.  From what I can tell most government agencies require the Acrobat 4.0 format.  And since the Acrobat 6.0 format gives no significant advantages I don't see them making it a requirement for some time.  If you do work for them you may be able to use Acrobat 6.0 but you are going to have to back save to Acrobat 4.0 format for most government work.

4.) The layers and the demise of what was a good thing.
What I really loved about the PDF format was it's simplicity.  What you created is what your customer saw and was they were able to print out.  We're not talking brain surgery here.  If we need to share information that required turning layers on and off we have our native formats or the DWF format for that.  Now essentially Adobe had introduced another way that the client could mess up the PDF file before printing it.

5.) The layers and the reverse engineering factor.
And you thought PDF was a secure way to transmit your drawings.  I hate to admit it but anything that can be printed through Windows can be converted into a dxf file using several off-the-self printer drivers.  I have the knowledge now to directly read the PDF files and convert them into a DWG file if I want with pretty decent results.  The problem is that everything goes on 1 layer.  Now your telling me that Adobe is going to allow you to create an PDF with layer information for each item.  Adobe, thanks for making it even easier for someone to reverse engineer our work into an even more useable AutoCAD drawing.

6.) No support for multiple paperspace layouts.
Apparently nobody at Autodesk told Adobe that there may be more than 1 drawing in the AutoCAD file.  All that Acrobat 6.0 does is convert the last layout or modelspace that you were working in.  What does this mean for the batch conversion in Acrobat?  It doesn't work unless you only design in modelspace.  If you use paperspace layouts and forget and save it in the modelspace Acrobat 6.0 is going to convert the modelspace instead.

7.) Speed and reliability
From our testing on 5 drawings from the AutoCAD samples directory our AcroPlot program is 5 times faster than Adobes Acrobat 6.0.  How can that be?  First off Adobe thinks that you need to open and close the AutoCAD application for each drawing that you convert.  We all know the speed demon AutoCAD is on opening and closing.  I seriously doubt you are going to convert hundreds of drawings with Acrobat 6.0 unless you have half a day to let the computer process everything.

 

The following 3 questions were asked by Ralph Grabowski, the editor of upFront.eZine, to 3rd party companies that specialize in AutoCAD to PDF conversion. UpFront.eZine is a weekly e-newsletter for CAD users and I highly recommend it to everyone.  You can sign up for it at: www.upfrontezine.com

 

How will Adobe's move into CAD affect you?

With Adobeís marketing power Iím sure it will affect our business some but in reality a large percentage of our customerís already own the Adobe Acrobat but use our AcroPlot software because it is specifically designed to work with AutoCAD to batch process multiple drawings. With some of our customerís converting hundreds of pages into a single PDF the batch processing saves them several hours per job. I have yet to see the beta of the new Acrobat 6.0 but from what I have heard the integration with AutoCAD is simply to output the current drawing from inside of AutoCAD much like what our AcroPlot Jr. program does for 1/5 of the cost. And with the cost of the Adobe Acrobat Professional being 3 times the cost of our AcroPlot software I actually thing that it is going to make our AcroPlot software an even more attractive alternative.

 

 

What does your product do that Acrobat 6 won't?

The main thing that AcroPlot does that I doubt Acrobat 6 will do is batch process multiple drawings into a single PDF file with intelligent bookmarks. Since day one our AcroPlot software was designed to allow the user to simply select hundreds of drawings and allow AcroPlot to convert them all by an unattended operation. We have customers routinely converting hundreds of drawings into a single PDF and in tests we have converted over 1400 drawings into a single PDF in about 7 hours of unattended processing. I donít see Adobe devoting the resources to do this since the AutoCAD market is a small portion of their customer base.

And along with this AcroPlot gives the user the ability to extract information from their existing titleblock attributes to use as the text for the bookmarks, which in turn becomes searchable by Windows Explorer. We also provide our users with the ability to easily plot the modelspace, 3D modelspace views, multiple paperspace layouts, or even named views. Since I was informed in December that the first Acrobat 6 beta didnít even work with multiple paperspace layouts I doubt that Adobe has the in depth understanding of AutoCAD and engineering that most of the Autodesk Developer Network members have.

Also another big thing we have done for our customers is to provide them with an easy way to save and recall their settings that the AcroPlot program. Several of our customers have to create the PDF files for a project in different ways. If they are being sent out for printing they may be in high resolution at full size. Where for a government agency they normally have to be in monochrome. And local governments tend to want them in 11xc17 format. With AcroPlot it takes 2 clicks to select a saved setting and start the batch processing again.

And finally AcroPlot allows our users to save all of the settings, drawing list, and the bookmark information into a plot file that can easily be recalled at a later time to send an update to you client. In just a few seconds you can be recreating a hundred page PDF with all of the updated drawings.

 


Do you think this strengthens PDF against alternative formats promoted by CAD vendors, such as Autodesk's DWF and SolidWorks' eDrawings?

Actually these formats should never be compared together. The PDF is a document format for any file type where the DWF and eDrawings are design formats for engineering drawings. The strength and the popularity of the PDF was that it was designed to allow you to package up anything that could be printed into a single document that could be viewed and printed by almost anyone who can use a computer. Now with the introduction of the layers Adobe has ruined what was a foolproof way to transmit drawings and to be sure that the client saw and printed exactly what you did.

The DWF and eDrawings on the other hand are designed to transmit CAD design data and should be used when the client may need to measure distances or when they need to be able to turn on and off layers to see specific details. But due to their capabilities they are not an ideal format for sending drawings that are intended to be published exactly as you had created them. And I havenít used the eDrawings lately but I donít think either format is suited for merging other documents like Word and Excel into them.

In reality I wouldnít recommend that anyone start transmitting PDF files in the Acrobat 6 format for at least a year. Not to say that we are not going to support the Adobe 6.0 format in the near future but with any new format you may be using it but the rest of the world may not.  From what our customers tell us the Adobe Reader 4.0 was much faster and better than the Adobe Reader 5.0. Also as with any new format only Adobeís own products are going to support it for some time. So if you transmit a drawing in 6.0 you are going to force your client to upgrade not only their Adobe Readers but also their PDF tools which may or may not be Adobe Products.

And if you are dealing with any government agency the majority of them still require the files in Adobe Acrobat 4.0 format and again I donít see this changing anytime soon. Sure the Adobe Reader 6.0 will be a free program but to test it an implement it across thousands of computers is no easy job for any company or government agency. And since the only major feature (layers) that I see in the format could actually cause more problems than benefits I just donít see it happening.

 

Now some questions I really wished Ralph would have asked.

 

Why is Acrobat 6.0 needed?

For the engineering user itís not needed. From what I can see the Acrobat 6 format is about as good as tits on a bull. It really doesnít give us as Engineers any huge benefits and in reality it may cause compatibility problems with your clients.  For the desktop publisher and high end printer there are some significant advantages which will allow them to create even higher quality PDF files and send them almost directly to the printing press.

But for Adobe and itís stockholders a new version is needed to continue to generate profits. Much like Autodeskís decision to change the file format in AutoCAD 2004. As other companies start reaching the 95%+ compatibility range it really starts to hurt the company that originally developed the format. So the solution is to typically change the format to knock the competition back a few steps. Itís also interesting that Acrobat 6 is coming out just months before the LZW compression patent is due to expire from Unisys and the LZW image compression is one of the few features that most 3rd party PDF libraries do not support in the Acrobat 5.0 format.

In our testing AcroPlot is considerably faster at merging existing PDF 4.0 files than the Adobe Acrobat 5.0. How can this be? Well, we have licensed a PDF library that for what we are doing has everything that we need and runs faster than Adobeís own library. It may not have all of the fancy features that the Adobe library does, but Iíll give up a few seldom-used features for speed any day. So with other companies on their heels Adobe does what most other large companies do and thatís to come out with a new format so the competition isnít in the 95%+ compatibility range.

Donít get me wrong Iím all for improvements. But from what I have seen the improvements do not warrant the entire world upgrading to Acrobat 6 format and until it does if you are creating Acrobat 6 files you are going to have to realize that you may have compatibility problems with the rest of the world. I think that Adobe has said that most Adobe 6.0 files should be able to be read by the Acrobat Reader 5.0 but we'll have to wait and see.

 

 

Where did Adobe miss the boat with Acrobat 6.0?

Again Iím going off what Iíve been able to read since I did not beta tested the new Acrobat 6. But for engineering there has always been 3 main limitations to the PDF format and I donít see where Acrobat 6.0 solves any of them.

1.) Lines Merge

Basically the lines merge option means that if you take and have a red line that crosses a green line the intersection of the 2 would be a mixture of the 2.  Much like drawing with highlighters.  The PDF format stores the information as lines and circles in the file but the problem is that the current crop of PDF viewers support either viewing or printing with the lines merge option.  If you're transmitting to a government agency and you need lines merge you may have problems anyways because they typically require things in monochrome and not grayscale, so it doesn't matter if it supports lines merge or not.  Also in the PDF or any format if you use the lines merge option on say a Word or Microsoft Publisher document you are really going to have some weird output because things like text shadows are actually another text object below the main one and allowing it to bleed through would be really weird.

So basically there are a couple options.  The first is to set the draworder properly which is what you have to do with any other Windows program (graphic design, word processing, publishing).  Or you can try to export an image format or an eps file and then create what is known as a "Raster PDF" which is typically larger in size and reduced quality.

Rodney McManamy
President
CADzation
www.cadzation.com

 

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