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Doing Flips Over Adobe's Acrobat

Even on the small screen, this free viewer transfers copy easily and legibly.


The personal computer--and by extension the personal digital assistant--was supposed to free us from paper.

Adobe's Acrobat portable document format, more commonly known as PDF, converts paper documents into relatively small electronic files that duplicate the printed product, complete with graphics and full, faithful color.

Adobe for years has offered free versions of the Acrobat Reader software for PCs and Macs. Those with hand-held devices have had to use third-party viewers, whose quality and flexibility have ranged from minimal to acceptable.

Now, Adobe offers a free viewer for Pocket PC, following up on the introduction of a Palm version this year. Even if it weren't a free download, the viewer is a Pocket PC must-have.

Within minutes of downloading and installing the software, I transferred PDFs of two magazines and was able to read them with ease. The small screen size of a Pocket PC means one has to make allowances and adjustments, but the copy flowed well and was legible.

The best documents that transfer to a hand-held device, Adobe says, are PDF files that feature tagging, or cues to re-flow text and graphics into the available screen area of the PDA.

In the case of the magazines I wanted to read, neither file (from two different publishers) was tagged. Before each would transfer from the PC to my hand-held, I had to let the program try its hand at translating the file for the smaller screen.

Adobe, which makes money on Acrobat in part by selling a $250 program that lets users create and annotate PDF files, urges those designing for the small screen to follow its new conventions.

One of the nice features of the Acrobat Reader is its ability to zoom in and out on type. With the "zoom in" feature, I was able to read just about anything in the file before me. But zooming--and redrawing the screen--takes time, even on a rather powerful and potent Pocket PC, such as the Hewlett-Packard Jornada used in this test.

About all that is missing from Acrobat Reader for Pocket PC is the ability to fill in and digitally sign PDF-created forms, which is something the desktop versions of Acrobat are noted for.

Form filling on a hand-held device would seem a natural, given the wide use of PDAs by mobile workers.

An Adobe spokeswoman said the firm is hoping to introduce such features in the future, but offered no timeline.


Mark A. Kellner is a freelance technology writer and hosts "Mark Kellner on Computers" at from 5 to 6 p.m. Thursdays. He can be reached at

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