Acrobat.com: Lights, camera... productivity apps!

The Flash-driven user interfaces to Adobe's Web-based word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation tools really shine, but the tools themselves are lackluster

Following up on my recent review of Web-based office productivity suites, Adobe wrote in to let me know of an omission. As it turns out, Acrobat.com isn't just about generating PDFs, as you might expect; it's also host to a growing number of Web applications, including Adobe's own online productivity software. I gave it a whirl and found it intriguing, if a little lackluster at this early stage.

Like Microsoft's Office 2010 Web Apps, Adobe's offerings are still very much works in progress. Only the word processor component is officially launched. The spreadsheet and presentation components are hosted on the Acrobat.com Labs site, and so far they're really just demos -- you can't import or export finished documents, for example. The applications aren't well-integrated, and they don't feel much like a suite.

[ Find out how Microsoft Web Apps, Google Docs, and Zoho matched up in InfoWorld Test Center's review ]

What sets them apart from the competition is that they're all based on Flash, rather than plain HTML and JavaScript. This means their UIs are slicker, smoother, and more animated than the others I tested. Menus slide and bounce around, progress bars pulse, and custom cursors twirl. That might be your bag; personally, I found it to be a whole lot of UI for such basic functionality.

Buzzword, Adobe's word processor, is comparable to the others I tested. Support for Microsoft Office documents is mediocre, as I've come to expect. Otherwise, you have access to the usual range of basic text-formatting capabilities, albeit with the aforementioned animated UI. Be prepared to move the mouse if you use this app, because keyboard commands appear to be nonexistent. (See Buzzword screen image.)

adobe-buzzword.gif

Tables is the spreadsheet component, and it's here that the use of Flash really dresses up documents nicely. I ran into problems immediately, however, because Adobe doesn't follow Excel's syntax for formulas. It took me ages to figure out how to sum a column, and I never did manage to sum a row. If you're a die-hard Excel expert, Tables' weird syntax is sure to be a nonstarter. (See Tables screen image.)

adobe-tables.gif

Presentations is where you'd expect Flash to really shine, and they do look nice, but they aren't jaw-dropping. One nice aspect is the ability to upload FLV video. Otherwise, Presentations functions pretty much like the presentation components of the HTML-based office suites I tested. (See Presentations screen image.)

adobe-presentations.gif

And that's the problem I have with Adobe's suite overall: There's no killer feature that knocks the competition aside, nothing that really stops you in your tracks. So why Flash? Microsoft doesn't even require Silverlight for its Web Apps (though it's optional). It's true that the Flash plug-in is almost universal these days, but using it opens up additional security risks that might be unacceptable for some organizations.

Still, as demos of what Adobe's technology can do, these apps are certainly nifty. Sign up and give them a whirl if you want to see one possible future for Web-based apps; if you want to do serious work, however, I recommend you stick with one of the other, HTML-based options.

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