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Adobe's Dynamic Documents

Adobe Systems officials say they have closed the loop in e-documentation with three server products announced Monday.

The Adobe Form Server, Workflow Server and Central Output Server are expected to dramatically decrease a businesses paper flow and improve efficiency. Officials said the equipment, available in rack mount or standalone form, would be available to the public towards the end of the year. Currently, several companies are finishing up beta-testing the product.

"We are helping people work with paperwork in a more efficient way, because it is still a paradigm in the currency of business; it's not likely it will ever really go away, but people are using it smarter and only when they need to," said Julie McEntee, Adobe director of product management for server products said.

She said the new server products put an end to the "ad hoc" creation of e-documentation, the use of many different vendors to bring the same solution these three servers will incorporate.

Using the Document Server, in-house developers can create programs to dynamically update reports, graphs and other types of .pdf files. The technology is relatively language-agnostic; developers can generate scripts in Java, Perl, COM and Web services platforms using the simple object access protocol (SOAP). Also acceptable are extensible markup language-formatting objects (XML-FO) scripts.

The servers will run on Windows NT and Solaris. The following are the system requirements:

Windows NT

  • Intel Pentium III 500 MHz or faster
  • 512 MB of RAM per CPU (1 GB recommended)
  • 256 MB of available RAM
  • RAM size plus 256 MB of swap disk space
  • 350 MB available on hard drive
  • CD-ROM drive

Solaris

  • Sun UltraSPARC IIi 440 MHz processor or faster (Enterprise 280R w/2 750 MHz UltraSPARC III recommended
  • 512 MB of RAM per CPU (1 GB recommended)
  • RAM size plus 256 MB of swap disk space
  • 350 MB available on hard drive
  • CD-ROM drive

Separate versions of the server will be available for mySAP and Oracle users.

Officials said the training time to get a system administrator or mid-level IT staffer is small, normally around two days, to handle the servers' day-to-day administration. Setup time depends on the amount of integration points within the company.

Pricing on the Adobe servers won't run cheap. McEntee said the servers will run between $10,000 to $75,000 per CPU. But the return on investment (ROI) makes the servers worthwhile, even in today's economic environment and IT belt-tightening.

"The customers we've beta-tested, they're able to have real financial impact on their operations," she said. "The ability to save money and to reduce the amount of people it takes to execute a particular task, not to mention the customer support improvement."

Adobe's biggest customer, in terms of an organization needing the most help, is the U.S. government. The Government Paper Elimination Act, part of the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996, gave federal agencies five years to implement technology to reduce paperwork and accept digital signatures.

The Internal Revenue Service is one of Adobe's beta-testers. While officials said they would not comment on the status of something they are beta-testing, the potential benefits in one area of Adobe's e-document upgrade could have huge ramifications.

An enhancement to the Acrobat Reader, the popular application used to read .pdf files, will allow users to fill out e-documents and return them. Using digital signature technology, as well as redundant validation security checks, makes electronic forms traffic possible.

"Organizations are quickly recognizing the limitation of business processes that do not bring together highly structured data with unstructured, document-based information," said David Yockelson, an executive vice president at research firm META Group. "In particular, governments and highly-regulated industries that rely on documents to be reliably secured, shared, viewed and printed will look to solutions that help them automate documents in the systematic way they've addressed deploying enterprise applications."

Imagine being able to get a federal income tax form via e-mail, fill out the forms using Acrobat Reader, and returning it to the IRS without having to send it through the mail. Not only would it reduce the paperwork trail, it would result in faster returns.

Adobe Acrobat Reader 5.1 is available at the company's Web site today, though users won't be able to use the new form-filling features until the company creating the document turns the feature on at the server side.

Microsoft has something similar in the works with its XDocs application, which will be integrated with the upcoming Office 11 package.

Adobe officials aren't overly concerned about Microsoft's foray into dynamic e-documents.

"The market share and the value proposition of .pdf has been very strong across the market sectors," McEntee said. "We have over 300 government agencies, 1,200 financial institutions; most people understand that Adobe's value proposition and value adds are not just forms -- they extend to many types of documents."

She also said the introduction of more XML-based applications makes the industry as a whole better, with Microsoft bringing more awareness of the technology to the community.