Adobe goes after corporate e-forms

Adobe Systems this month will ship two products designed to make it easier for corporations to create and share interactive forms and documents and integrate them with data from back-end systems.

The company unveiled Adobe Document Server and the Adobe Document Server for Reader Extensions, which both work with the company's widely used PDF and represent Adobe's new emphasis on corporate computing.

The system will let corporations integrate legacy data into PDF forms, which have become a de facto publishing format within enterprises and on the Web, and create collaborative documents and a workflow approval system.

Adobe officials say this will provide controls and security over forms that are produced using HTML. Adobe also will compete with Shana, PureEdge and Microsoft, which recently unveiled its XDocs technology.

Adobe is coupling the two products -- which sit behind a corporate firewall -- with three products it acquired from Accelio earlier this year: Adobe Workflow, Form and Central Output servers.

"The biggest improvement is the ability to save these forms," says Paul Showalter, senior publishing analyst for the Internal Revenue Service. "That is the most frequent request we get. People now can download these forms and fill them out and save a copy before sending it back."

Showalter says the IRS licenses a similar Adobe technology today called Adobe Approval, which it includes with forms sent out on CD-ROM. The new technology also will allow them to distribute those types of forms on the Web.

In the future, Showalter will use the Adobe technology to pull data from back-end systems to prepopulate forms with a user's data and to customize forms. "Why should we ask someone for information about their children if we know they don't have any."

Showalter will be able to do that with the Adobe Document Server. The server supports XML, which allows the server to move data from legacy systems into PDF documents and vice versa.

"The merger of data and documents means that PDF becomes more of a container [for data exchange] and not so much just a final form document," says David Yockelson, an analyst with Meta Group. "By linking data to XML and with a server, Adobe isn't just a client interface anymore."

Adobe officials say by automating data processes on the backend, users can avoid the errors of rekeying information into legacy systems. The U.S. will spend US$1.5 billion on rekeying data next year, Adobe officials predict.

To support the improvements on the backend, Adobe is adding a server that will improve its popular front-end technology Adobe Reader, which is on the desktop of about 400 million users, according to Adobe.

To incorporate the Reader, Adobe is introducing the Document Server for Reader Extensions. It works with Adobe Reader 5.1 by sending a document that turns on editing features found in the software. Documents downloaded for the Reader Extensions server into the Reader client include a trigger to activate those features, which allow users to annotate, print, save and to add digital signatures.

Both servers will run on Windows 2000 and NT and are priced at $10,000 per CPU.

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