I have a love/hate relationship with PDF portfolios, the Acrobat 9 PDF format that turns a PDF into a handy ZIP container with a slick front end. I love the interface for customizing it, because it makes me feel like I'm a programmer. "Hmmm, the interface should present thumbnails of the enclosed files on the bottom that you can flick left and right; and a Flash movie should be on the "home" page, with a "Fall leaves" color theme. Or wait … let me arrange them in list order like the Finder."
The hate part is due to the blatant versionist (a la racist or sexist) attitude of the thing. If you double-click a PDF portfolio file (whose extension is that of a simple country bumpkin PDF just like any other PDF) with a version of Reader or Acrobat earlier than 9, you get a big honking red alert-looking thing recommending that you upgrade to ver 9, even though in many cases it's not required at all. I've had two too many clients freak out at that alert and let me know they can't open the PDF I sent them… incorrect, but what can you do. I had to send them a link to a ZIP file.
I talked about this versionist thing at length in my Acrobat 9: Tips and Tricks videos at Lynda.com, and showed a few ways of getting around it … of making your PDF portfolios more backwards-compatible and less scary. One day I mean to write a how-to companion article for CreativePro.com about it. I'm about 10 months past due for an article over there, and I think it'd be a great topic — not everyone is a member of Lynda.com's online training videos.
Okay so fast forward to the "actually worked" part. Funnily enough, it has to do with Lynda.com too.
I had just recorded a new title with them called "Social Media Marketing with Facebook and Twitter." (It should come out this fall.) While pulling together the outline and content for the 40 or so videos in the course, I had to show other people's Twitter pages and Facebook pages, right? Even if I just showed my own Facebook page, you could still see my friends' stuff, about 20 other people's statuses and comments, with their pictures and full names.
When you write a book, record a video, or film a movie, and you include identifiable information (like images) about other people or companies, you have to get their permission to do so. In writing, in the form that the publisher's legal department requires. So I had to get all these people's permissions for Lynda.com. Their legal department gave me three separate Release forms to distribute and collect: one to use someone's Facebook page, one for their Twitter page, and one for their web site or application. (For example, I couldn't show the TweetDeck application without getting TweetDeck's permission.)
To make it easier for people to fill out the release forms, I created Reader-compatible form fields in them. (Who wants to fax these days?) Users could just open the PDF in Reader, fill out the form fields, save their info, and return the PDF to me as an attachment to the email. [Why Lynda.com doesn't supply the releases to their authors in this format to begin with (one was sent to me as a Word doc) is a puzzler. Brian Wood did a great job showing how to do this in his Acrobat videos for them. ;-)]
Gratifyingly (assuming that's a word), most of the people I requested permission from said yes, and returned the signed PDF form to me.
Of course, while I was in Ventura recording the videos, I forgot to copy the PDF releases to Lynda.com's server. By now I had about 30, some with multiple pages (people concatenated their Facebook and Twitter forms). After I got back home to Chicago, I realized that the signed permissions were still on my laptop. Argh.
I started to attach them, one by one, to an e-mail to Tom, my producer for this title at Lynda.com. I soon realized that an e-mail with 30 attachments would be ridiculous. Then I thought … wait … I'll just merge them into one big PDF. Easier to manage.
So I flipped over to Acrobat 9 and chose File > Combine > Merge Files into Single PDF (I love how Acro commands are so literal, makes it easier on my brain). In the "which files do you want" window I shift/Command-clicked my way through about 10 of the PDFs to start with, and clicked the OK button.
But wait! Acrobat started having conniptions because some of the PDFs had security settings, and it wanted to know the passwords before it could merge them. (I didn't know those … they came either from Lynda.com or a paranoid form filler-outer.)
I said "skip for now" thinking I'd send those separately, but then Acrobat had another conniption. It warned that it was detecting forms, and if the same-named fields existed on two or more PDFs in the merge, the fields in the combined PDF would only hold the first instance of data. In other words, all the permission forms ended up with the same single user's sign-off! Not good.
The alert about the security settings, though, also had a reminder that if I didn't want to mess around with passwords, I could just add it to a PDF portfolio instead of merging it. After the failure with the form fields, that's what I decided to do.
I cancelled out of the Merge operation, and then went back to the File menu in Acrobat, this time choosing Create Portfolio. It's so easy to add files to portfolio (from a dialog or by just drag-dropping), and this time, it didn't issue a peep when I brought in the 30 or so PDFs.
Then spent a little time in the Layout wizard to choose an interface (I chose List view) and write a little text note on the "home" page to Tom and Lynda's legal people. It was ready to go in about 2 minutes.
Now the question was, how to send it? It was kind of a big PDF, so instead of attaching it to an email, I thought I should probably upload it to my web server and then email them a link to download it.
Once again, though, I realized that Acrobat had an easier solution built-in. I still had my Edit Portfolio window open, and noticed there was a "Publish" tab at the bottom right. I clicked it, and a panel opened inviting me to Save it, E-mail it, or Share it on Acrobat.com.
I chose Share, which stepped me through a wizard that uploaded the file to Acrobat.com (accounts are free) in the background and then e-mailed a link to download it to my contacts at Lynda.com. Now, how can they make any more convenien than that! It was pretty slick.
The next day I heard from Tom at Lynda.com, who said he received the email, downloaded the PDF from the link, and printed out the 30 PDFs the portfolio contained for the legal department. When you open a PDF portfolio and choose Print, it prints all the PDFs in the porfolio, one after the other, by default (or you can select one or more PDFs first and choose Selected PDF in the Print dialog box).
Portfolios can hold many more filetypes than PDFs … you can add Excel files, Word docs, RTF files, images, and so on … but that's a topic for another post. In this instance, simply being able to manage 30+ PDFs in a single file was cool enough for me!