Adobe Puts You in Control of Your Documents

Wednesday Nov 15th 2006 by Dan Muse
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Adobe says that even after you send your PDF, Microsoft Word or Excel file off into the world, you can still track and control access with its new hosted service.

Ever feel nervous about unleashing your PDF, Microsoft Word or Excel files into the wilderness? Do you feel powerless thinking that once your proposal or legal document is sent you lose control of who, when and how often it's viewed? If that's what bugging you, Adobe says it has an answer for you with its new Web-based document-control service.

The Adobe Document Center, announced today, is designed to let you protect, share and track the use of Adobe PDF, Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel documents. According to Mark Grilli. senior product marketing manager for hosted products, Adobe Document Center lets small businesses dynamically grant and revoke access to documents distributed either inside or outside the firewall. You can keep an audit trail, tracking actions such as opening, adding comments or printing documents.

"Information travels across the firewall and outside the network," Grilli said. "Larger enterprises have options to produce, control and track documents, and this provides small businesses with control of distribution."

How would a small business or sole proprietor benefit from document control? "To use a personal example," Grilli said, "I don't know how many times I've sent out a file and said, 'oops, I made a mistake.' Now I have to call and say 'please don't use that.' I can use the service to revoke that file and send a new one."

How It Works
While the service is Web-based, Adobe doesn't actually store your documents online. It stores just the code to track and provide access to the documents wherever they are stored locally. "Think of like a FedEx tracking number," Grilli said. "It's like putting a PDF in a protective envelope." That tracking number is how you keep track of (and control) who is accessing, changing or printing a file.


Adobe Document Center
Adobe Document Center lets you track and control who accesses your documents
(Click for larger image)

You can protect and control files in several ways. You can create PDF files with Adobe Acrobat 8 software and apply security settings to those documents from within Acrobat.

To protect Microsoft Word and Excel 2003 files, you need to install what Adobe describes as "a lightweight plug-in." That 12MB plug-in then lets you apply dynamic security settings directly from those applications as well. According to Adobe, the service will soon let you convert files to PDF and apply security and control settings to them directly from Adobe Document Center. Currently, only PDF, Word and Excel files can be tracked, but Grilli said, Adobe will add other document types in the future.

To view and interact with documents controlled through Adobe Document Center, recipients need to have the free Adobe Reader 8 software to access PDF files or they need to download the plug-in mentioned above to access Word and Excel files.

The service is designed to provide granular control down to individual recipients. Those recipients use an Adobe ID to gain access to the files. An Adobe ID enables recipients to authenticate themselves with a password only known to them each time they view a document and helps ensure they are using an e-mail address that matches the address you indicated.

What happens if the recipient accesses the document, saves it and then goes offline? Grilli said you can also configure Adobe Document Center to control and monitor offline access. That is, you can prevent or limit offline access. You could allow only some users to access it offline. Or you could let users view it offline, but not change it or print it.

Adobe Document Center will be available for free trial for the rest of the year, Grilli said. You can download it here. After that, the service will cost $19.95 per month or $199 per year. A subscription allows you to grant up to 500 recipients access to your documents. That pricing is available for six months. Adobe said it will set more permanent pricing at a later date.

Adobe Document Center represents the first Web-based application for Adobe, but, Grilli said, while "hosted services are new for Adobe, this is just the first product in that line." Storage and security are two areas Adobe expects to focus on, he said.

Dan Muse is executive editor of internet.com's Small Business Channel, EarthWeb's Networking Channel and ServerWatch.

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