Look out, Google Docs: Adobe's Acrobat.com offers an intuitive word processor, 5GB of storage, and integrated Web conferencing. As a bonus, users can convert five documents to PDFs for free. This online tool has some kinks--it's occasionally slow and doesn't support spreadsheets or presentations--but Acrobat.com is a good first attempt.
Clean User Interface
To people who already useAdobe Photoshop Express, Acrobat.com's user interface will look familiar. All of the screens have a black background with gray and white text in unobtrusive side and/or top navs. With the exception of these tabs, which denote high-level functionality, the site makes good use of colorful icons with rollover labels. And like Photoshop Express (and very much unlike Google), it's ad-free.
That said, we had a few issues with the interface in our Beta testing. For one, there's no Home button, nor a Back button within the app itself; to return to a previous screen you must use the Back button in your Web browser, which often means you have to log into your account again. Additionally, we weren't able to use the same e-mail address and password combination that we set up for Photoshop Express.
To test Buzzword, Acrobat.com's word processor, we imported an incomplete draft of this review, which we began in Microsoft Word 2007. What we first noticed is that there are only seven fonts, and most have unfamiliar names (our review, originally written in Times New Roman, translated to Minion Pro in Buzzword, which looks like Times New Roman). Google Docs has 11 fonts, and the names are all familiar.
Other than that, the program's organization is intuitive: the Document, Edit, Insert, and Help tabs at the top, for instance, organize the program's high-level functions in much the same way that Microsoft Word does. Buzzword looks like a "real" desktop word processor. As superficial as it might sound, looks are important; although Google Docs and Buzzword have near-identical feature sets, we felt more at home working in Buzzword.
However, the site, which is still in beta, was sometimes slow to save documents. Like other online word processors, Buzzword allows users to change the font and text color, apply textual effects, insert images and tables, and break text into paragraphs and lists. We're puzzled, however, that it includes no spreadsheet functionality, which Google Docs does.
Buzzword has some unique strengths. For instance, you can change the background color and, as we mentioned, import documents from the desktop. (In addition to DOC and DOCX Word files, you can import or export RTF, TXT, and XML files; Buzzword also exports to Adobe PDF, OpenOffice, and HTML.) Also, in the bottom right corner is a sliding zoom scale.
Adobe's trademark nondestructive editing means you can always return to an older draft. When you click on the history icon (which, cleverly, looks like the Venus de Milo), you'll see a string of dots, each of which represents a different draft. We like that you can scroll over a dot to see when that draft was saved, and click on the version you want.
Finally, Buzzword has a leg up on the competition when it comes to file organization. Users have the choice of listing projects alphabetically, by author, size, the date last modified, the user's role in the project (author, edit privileges, or read-only), and in the case of collaborative projects, whether the user has seen the latest version.
Built-in Web Conferencing
What sets Acrobat.com apart from any other collaborative, Web-based productivity tool is its built-in Web-conferencing capability. Using Adobe's ConnectNow technology, users can share their screens with up to two other people, and use webcams and VoIP to collaborate on projects. Participants of these meetings do not need to have an Adobe ID to attend. Moreover, users have a permanent URL for meetings that they host (e.g., https://connectnow.acrobat.com/username).
ConnectNow requires that you have Adobe Flash installed, as well as a ConnectNow plug-in if you wish to screen-share. When you initiate a meeting, the "room" opens in a separate, full-screen window. When you share your screen, you'll see a pop-up dashboard with expandable folders called Attendees, Chat, Shared Notes, Webcam, and Annotate.
Using this dashboard, you can invite and remove attendees and assign them roles (host, participant, or audience), type in a chat box, share notes, and start your webcam. Whereas you see a pop-up dashboard, people with whom you are sharing your screen will see your desktop inside their browser.
In addition to Web conferencing, Adobe encourages collaborative work by allowing users to share their Buzzword documents with others and edit together in real time. Sharing is as easy as pressing the Share button in the lower left corner of Buzzword, entering the e-mail addresses of those you want to share with, and assigning them a role (co-author, reviewer, or reader).
As with Google Docs, more than one person can work on a document at the same time. When someone else is working on the document, a visual marker shows who is actively editing. The non-destructive editing helps the author, or authors, reconcile or reverse changes. Editors, too, can leave comments, which makes the progression of changes clearer.
Against the Competition
Google Docs has some obvious advantages over Buzzword and Acrobat.com's collaborative work tools: its seamless integration with its popular e-mail service, as well as its spreadsheet and presentations capability. But Buzzword looks more like a desktop word processor, and we found ourselves better able to concentrate with this interface. Less subjectively, Buzzword's feature set is slightly richer.
While the two services are on a par when it comes to sharing documents, Adobe's free, integrated Web conferencing is compelling and useful. Sure, we wish it could accommodate more than three people, but given that it's the only free Web-meeting service incorporated into a free online word processor, we can't really complain. It also sure beats paying monthly subscriptions for deeper Web-conferencing services, such as Adobe's ownAcrobat Connect.
At no cost, Acrobat.com offers users an intuitive word processor, collaborative editing, and--a first for an app of this kind--Web conferencing. Although we prefer its interface and word processing feature set to Google Docs, Acrobat.com has some kinks that Adobe should address. We like the service as is, but we'll enjoy it more when Adobe makes it faster and adds the ability to create and edit spreadsheets and presentations.