Adobe puts PDF support on Palms

You no longer need to lug around a laptop to view Adobe Acrobat files on the go: Adobe Systems Inc. is offering a free beta of a PDF viewer for Palm handhelds.

You can download the trial version of Acrobat Reader for Palm OS, which works on personal digital assistants that run the Palm operating system, such as devices made by Palm and Handspring. With it, you can view text and images in a Portable Document Format file right on a Palm OS-based device. The final version of the free download is expected to be available this summer.

Acrobat Reader for Palm OS works particularly well with PDFs authored by Acrobat 5, which shipped Monday priced at US$249. Acrobat 5 adds XML-like tags to PDFs, making it easier to reformat them for a small handheld device, according to Adobe representatives. But Adobe admits that complex PDFs authored in earlier versions of Acrobat may end up a little jumbled on the Palm.

Hands-On at the Controls

Adobe’s Palm PDF Reader includes Acrobat Reader Palm Desktop and Acrobat Reader for Palm. Through the desktop tool, you simply select ‘Add PDF to Transfer List’ to import a PDF to your handheld. File sizes vary depending on the document’s length and graphics content, but the software tells you how large it is before you HotSync to transfer the file to your PDA.

If a document includes images, Acrobat Reader Palm Desktop will ask you whether to keep them, depending on your device’s storage capacity. Or you can set your preferences to automatically remove all images.

“Users have total control over the PDA conduit,” says Sarah Rosenbaum, group product manager for Adobe Acrobat.

On the device, Acrobat Reader for Palm offers a surprising level of control for a handheld application. Slide bars at the bottom and the side let you scroll through pages, or you can choose full view and flip pages by tapping on the screen. Depending on the document’s content locks, you can copy text (by simply dragging the stylus across it) and paste it into other documents, or you can tap to enlarge graphics for better viewing.

Not surprisingly, images look pretty poor on a low-resolution Palm OS-based device, but you can at least get a sense of how they appear in the PDF document. The preview could be useful for reviewing documents or following instruction forms.

Best Paired With Acrobat 5

Acrobat Reader for Palm gives you a nudge to upgrade to Acrobat 5. It works best with PDFs created using the newest version of Acrobat, since those files contain “structural information, or tags, in them that makes it easy to reformat the document,” Rosenbaum says.

With syntax similar to XML, Acrobat 5 PDF tags use the same kind of information as XML to identify the parts of a document, as well as the kind of content, Rosenbaum says. Tagged PDFs transfer to PDAs best, he adds.

Of course, since Acrobat 5 began shipping only this week, most existing PDF documents don’t support the tagging that makes transfer to a PDA easier.

“For those documents, Acrobat Reader Palm Desktop will automatically add tags using artificial intelligence technology,” Rosenbaum says. But the artificial tagging isn’t as accurate for complex PDFs, he notes.

“Graphic-heavy complex documents won’t tag as well,” Rosenbaum says. “You can still view them, but they might not display in a logical reading order.”

Mobile Docs Go Laptop-Free

The Acrobat Reader for Palm does not support printing, so viewing a PDF on a system may sometimes still be your best alternative. But mobile professionals who need to take PDF content with them will find the new capability a useful alternative to carrying a notebook computer, Rosenbaum says.

Certainly PDF has proved popular for everything from printable Web forms to desktop publishing. Adobe’s free, downloadable Acrobat Reader has become a common fixture on consumer and business desktops. Adobe is also pushing PDFs as a format for electronic books, and has released EBook Reader 2.0, the latest version of its Glassbook Reader.

But Adobe isn’t alone in taking PDFs to handhelds.

DataViz has included a PDF to Go viewer tool in the latest version of Documents to Go, Palm OS software for viewing and editing Microsoft Corp. Word and Excel files.

Meanwhile, Adobe is looking into other handheld platforms for Acrobat Reader, notably Pocket PC.

“We demonstrated a Reader a year ago for Windows CE [running on Pocket PC],” Rosenbaum says. “We’re looking at market demand to decide whether to complete that project.”