New Adobe Reader sandboxed, simplified

Adobe has released the new version of its Reader PDF viewing software, and with it comes a number of changes: a new Roman-based numbering scheme (“Adobe Reader X”), tightened security and, for the browser version, a substantially reduced user interface. Adobe’s flagship PDF creation software, Adobe Acrobat, has been upgraded as well.

“PDF is used everywhere, and what we want to do is make sure we have the best tool for consuming and interacting with PDFs,” said Rick Brown, Adobe’s senior product director for Acrobat.

As the company executives have hinted, Reader X will feature a sandbox to limit the access that PDF-based scripts can have over the user’s operating system, reducing the attack surface that PDFs typically provide. PDF readers have been increasingly used by malicious hackers as a platform from which to launch attacks.

“If anything malicious happens in the context of that client software, you are much more protected when it’s run in a sandbox environment,” Brown said.

Reader’s browser-based interface has also undergone a major revision since the last iteration, version 9.4. The new version of Reader, when called by the browser, has been simplified so that it will have “no user interface chrome,” Brown said.

Adobe estimates that 50 per cent of PDFs are opened directly from the browser. Viewing a PDF within a browser, however, gives the user two sets of interfaces, as the PDF controls are nested within a page underneath the browser’s own controls. This “nested interface” has been confusing for some users, especially if they wish to carry out tasks such as printing the document, Brown said.

With the new minimal interface, basic functions — such as printing, searching or moving forward or backward in the document — can be called directly from the browser menu items or shortcut keys themselves. “It does what you expect, so you don’t get confused,” Brown said.

Thus far, Adobe has proven this new minimal interface to work with the Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari browsers, though it is not fully compatible with Chrome yet. Users pining for the old ways can elect to have Reader show the classic interface instead.

In addition to these features, Adobe will start offering a new service through Reader that will allow users to share PDFs through an Adobe-hosted location on the Web. Brown argued that using this service could be easier than e-mailing PDFs, which may get stopped at firewalls or consume user disk space. The service will also offer a set of capabilities hard to replicate with e-mail, such as the ability to generate reports of who viewed a document and the ability to set a time period in which a viewer can see the PDF.

The company has also revamped its online service for creating PDFs online, making it easier to access from the Reader interface, Brown said. Pricing-wise, both services will start at US$9.99 a month.

Along with updating Reader, Adobe has revised its flagship software for creating PDFs, Adobe Acrobat. Also subjected to Roman numeral naming, the new version is known as Adobe Acrobat X. One major new feature, called Actions, allows administrators to set up a custom workflow that walks users through a sequence of actions they should take when creating a PDF. For instance, an organization can set up an Action for cleansing a PDF of metadata before it is released.

Acrobat X extends its use of Adobe Flash. Over the past few iterations of the format, Adobe has expanded PDFs to contain not only text documents but also include audio, video, three-dimensional renderings and other media-rich content. With this release, Acrobat has a number of pre-built Flash templates that can be used as interactive tables of content for PDFs containing multiple elements. Advanced users can use the Adobe Flex developer environment to build even more custom directories, Brown said.

Acrobat is also fully integrated with Microsoft SharePoint, allowing Acrobat files to enjoy all the privileges of Microsoft Office files, Brown said.

The standard version of Acrobat X will be priced at $299 for a new copy and $139 for an upgrade. Reader X can be downloaded at no cost.

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