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Adobe's cash cow, Acrobat, gets a makeover in November, upgrading a version number to 8.0, and gaining a new companion.

Web conferencing is the most notable improvement for the documentation software, delivered through a new (well, new-ish) software service, Adobe Connect. This is a rebranded and updated version of Breeze, inherited through last year's $3.4bn acquisition of Macromedia.

A free trial version, get-at-able from Acrobat 8.0 at the click of the Start Meeting button, goes live when 8.0 does, and the chargeable version launches early next year, Adobe said today. Customers can edit documents into PDFs (Adobe's Portable Document Format) or do whatever it is they do with Acrobat collaboratively in real-time with their colleagues.

Which is nice, but cost is key here. Adobe has priced the servicing at US$39/month, or US$395/year per user, which could add up very quickly to a not-so-tidy sum. In return for the cash, Adobe offers:

Unlike traditional web conferencing solutions, Acrobat Connect enables users to choose a simple and easy-to-remember web address for their online personal meeting room, with unlimited usage for up to 15 participants for one low monthly fee. The personal meeting rooms in Acrobat Connect are readily available, making it easy for knowledge workers to hold spontaneous, ad-hoc meetings, while helping to save time and increase productivity. A custom URL enables fast and easy-to-remember access to each user's personal meeting room, just like a phone number or e-mail address.

So will it fly? Sasa Zorovic, an Oppenheimer and Co analyst in Boston thinks so. "Everyone has a PDF reader, so the online conference market is theirs for the taking," he told Bloomberg.

Acrobat Reader, Adobe's free client that enables people to read PDFs, has been installed on more than 500 million PCs worldwide

Other improvements for 8.0 include more file formats for import, export and conversion into PDF and better handling of multiple types of content. A sneak sheet is available, appropriately enough in PDF format, here.

Acrobat 8.0 is available in various hues: the full Professional version will cost around $449 and $159 for an upgrade. The Standard edition costs around $299 and $159 in upgraded form.

Today, Adobe has no serious competitors for making PDFs. But Microsoft is a brooding presence. A few months ago it signalled its intention to incorporate a PDF converter in the next version of Office, due out next year. Adobe boss Bruce Chizen is relaxed by this: but the company has called in the lawyers, just in case...

Last week, a British researcher uncovered a couple of back doors in Adobe PDF that malicious hackers could use to launch attacks. eWEEK has the scoop here. ®

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