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Adobe Balances a Three-Ring Acrobat

In its quest for the paperless office, Adobe Systems Monday said it is making sweeping changes to its Web document platform -- Acrobat.

The San Jose, Calif.-based Web publishing software giant said it would launch the next version of its authoring tool (Acrobat 6.0) in May 2003. The software will be sold in three separate releases and support XML and portable file versions. The company said it is also upgrading its popular Portable Document Format (PDF) standard to version 1.5, to be released at the same time.

And to take out the confusion between the $449 stand-alone Pro-version of Acrobat 6.0 and the free cross-platform reader, the company said it is re-branding the freeware as the "Adobe Reader."

Adobe president and CEO Bruce Chizen called the changes "the most important product announcement in the history of the company."

"Documents are the common currency of business -- from forms and contracts to customized reports and invoices," Chizen said in a statement. "With our open approach to document integration, tailored to specific enterprise requirements, we are transforming the efficiency and value of documents across industries.

Much of the improvements to Acrobat come at the $72 million expensed acquisition of Ottawa, Canada-based Accelio Corp .

"Accelio was pretty important to the new version of Acrobat," Adobe senior product marketing manager Diana Helander told internetnews.com. " One of the things we're targeting is providing the layer between the processes and people that have to interact with. For example with a credit invoice or a tax form, companies need to be able to manipulate the data that is relevant like digital signatures."

For developers, the company said all standard XML tools will work directly with Adobe's XML architecture and it builds upon W3C XML standards including Namespaces, XSLT, XPath, XML Schema and XML Digital Signatures. In the next few months, Adobe said it would make the XML architecture specification publicly available and deliver an XML toolkit for developers to provide easy access to PDF file content from common scripting languages and Java.

For content managers, version 6.0 will be offered as Acrobat Elements (1,000 licenses at $29 per unit), Acrobat Standard ($299) or Acrobat Professional ($449).

The professional version is the most advanced and features the ability to create searchable archives to reduce re-work and meet regulatory and/or legal requirements; accurate review and markup with specialized tools; one-button Adobe PDF creation from AutoCAD, Visio, Project (retains layer information); and support for large formats such as ISO, ARCH, ANSI and JIS.

The Standard and Professional versions are available for Windows and Macintosh operating systems. Elements is only available for Windows.

To help make a greater splash in the enterprise pool, Adobe said it is working with IBM , Documentum , Open Text and longtime partner SAP on bridging the gap between structured and unstructured data. In the manufacturing segment, software from PTC and Agile will link with Adobe Acrobat desktop software. Adobe is teaming with companies like Entrust and VeriSign to provide added security through new applications of digital signatures. Adobe and Intel are working together to promote mobile technology-based software. And Adobe's relationship with Access is expected to bring the Adobe Reader and PDF to non-PC devices, such as set-top boxes, wireless devices and game consoles.

Adobe's latest Acrobat to has sold more than ten million copies. The company has high hopes for Version 6.0.

Without naming numbers, Chizen said the new Acrobat products will lead to "significant" revenue growth this year.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Adobe 6.0 Professional with a retail price of $499.