Acrobat's Own Special Browser

August 10, 2005 - 2:00am ||| 0 Comments | Add new

With all this brouhaha (2 points for using "brouhaha") about CS2's new workflow management program, Adobe Bridge, and all the cool things it can do and if it's a good or bad thing that it's replaced Photoshop's File Browser and yadda yadda, I find it interesting that few people mention how Acrobat 7 Pro has been left out of the party, even though it's part of the Creative Suite 2 Premium package.

Yes, you can see PDF thumbnails in Bridge and do some things with them, most interestingly, you can see thumbnails of every page in a mutli-page PDF file.

But Acrobat 7 itself is basically ignorant of anything Bridge-like. There's no handy toolbar icon or menu command in Acrobat linking you to Bridge as in the other programs in the Suite, and so from Bridge's File menu there's no "Return to Acrobat Pro" command even if you just came from there. In Acrobat's Open or Save dialog boxes, there's no "Use Adobe Dialog" button either, as there is in CS2's Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.

I realize that Acrobat is on a different release cycle than the "big three" of the Creative Suite, and the current version came out months before CS2 was released. But you think they could've included a Bridge-aware "7.5" release or something when it was shipped with the CS2 Premium package in May.

No matter. We Acro 7 fans have our *own* built-in Bridgelike interface, our own special file browser. It doesn't require a Creative Suite purchase, so Quark users are on the same footing as InDesign users. In some ways it's even more useful than Bridge, because it's built for PDFs alone. No pesky requirements of other applications to muddy up the waters.

Playing with the Organizer

You won't find the "Organizer," Acrobat 7's (Pro and Standard) built-in file browser, in the frou-frou "Advanced" menu. Instead it patiently sits in the prosaic File menu, waiting for you to wander on by.

To open it, choose File > Organizer > Open Organizer or click the Organizer tool in the toolbar. It looks like an open file drawer with multi-colored files peeking out. You can also access the Organizer via the File > Open Recent > History (Mac) or File > History (Windows) submenus, or with a keyboard shortcut.

Like Bridge and the old Photoshop File Browser, the Organizer provides quick access to to the files in your hard drive. Although it kind of looks like a dialog box, it's not. It's a resizeable window divided into logical sections, each of which can be resized by dragging on their divider bars. Various buttons, menus and a thumbnail slider surround the three main panes.

Quickly Locate PDFs

The left-most pane in the Organizer window contains three ways to quickly locate PDFs: History, My Computer, and Collections. Each of these venues appears in its own little section of the "PDF Locater" (my term) pane, one above the other.

Check out the top-most "History" section (which is also available on its own via the File menu, remember) … Did you *know* that Acrobat 7 has been tracking which PDFs you've been looking at for the past YEAR? That's the default. You can change it in Preferences, all the way up to 24 Months if you want. It's really amazing. Luckily, porno web sites aren't much into PDFs (so I've been told) so you won't have to be embarrassed by someone peeking at your PDF History.

<cough> Anyway …

In the Organizer, click on any folder in the History section (Today, Yesterday, Last 7 Days, etc.) and thumbnails and details of all the PDFs you looked at in that time period appear in the main Files pane to the right. (More on the Files pane later on.)

Unlike any other "Open Recent"-like interface I've used, Acrobat's History will never give you a "file not found" alert. If it appears in the list, you can open it … because it only shows you the PDFs that still exist in the same location with the same filename. If you've trashed, moved or renamed a PDF after closing it, and haven't opened it since, its entry won't appear in your History menu or History folders in the Organizer. (You can find renamed/moved ones in the My Computer section directly below.)

Speaking of which … underneath the Organizer's History section is a "My Computer" section containing the usual Windows Explorer/Mac Finder -like hierarchal view of your entire hard drive and any mounted volumes. Select a folder and any PDFs the folder contains appear as thumbnails with details in the scrolling Files pane to the right. As in Bridge and the old File Browser, you can right-click a folder to save it as a Favorite Place for quick access.

Finally, the bottom section of this pane is for Collections. Dragging a PDF thumbnail from the middle Files section (which are showing because you selected a folder from History or My Computer) onto a Collection folder puts an *alias* or Shortcut to that PDF into that Collections folder. Three empty Collection folders to start you out are provided by default, and you can create more from a button underneath. To rename a Collection folder, just double-click its name in the Organizer window.

Collections are useful for "virtually grouping" PDFs from different locations into a single folder for quick access with a single click. Since you're only creating aliases when you drag and drop PDFs onto a Collection folder, you're not really moving them on your hard drive, and the same PDF could belong to two or more collections. I have a Collections folder for all my seminar handouts, another one with the final proofs of a bunch of different jobs for the same client, one with PDF manuals for different software programs on my drive, and so on.

Click once on a Collection folder to see the PDFs it contains — the actual ones in their disparate locations — as detailed thumbnails in the main Files section. You can always tell where a PDF is located on your hard drive, even when viewing it in a Collection, because its file path is listed next to its thumbnail, and you can right-click on the thumbnail to "Reveal in Finder/Explorer.'

Do Stuff with Found PDFs

Okay, so you've selected a folder from the History, My Computer, or Collections area in Organizer and are viewing the thumbnails of that folder's PDFs in the main Files pane of the window. Now what?

First, a little about those details I've been mentioning, the text that appears next to the PDF thumbnail(s). This is so useful! You can see the filename, of course, and the file path as I mentioned, but also the date and time it was last modified, the number of pages it contains, and metadata such as which program created the PDF (the "Producer"). If you're looking at multiple thumbnails, you can use the Sort menu to sort them by file size or name, date modified, last opened date (!), and various metadata categories.

Select one or more of the PDFs in the Files pane, and thumbnails of every single page in the selected PDF(s) appear in the right-most pane, Pages. Use the Pages zoom slider to change the size of the page thumbnails. If the PDF has any special data (layers, comments, security settings, etc.), you'll see a special icon appear here and can right-click on it to learn more. You can open a particular page in a multi-page PDF by double-clicking its Pages thumbnail.

Double-clicking a PDF thumbnail in the main Files pane opens the PDF in Acrobat to the first page. Shift- or Command/Ctrl-click multiple thumbnails and click the Open button at the top of the window to open multiple PDFs at once.

And check out those other buttons and commands at the top of the Organizer window: Print, Email, Create PDF from Multiple Files, and Send for Review (browser or email). These are all available in Acrobat's usual menus (not just in the Organizer) of course, but using the Organizer is often a much more convenient place to start.

For example, say you want to combine a bunch of PDFs into a single PDF, but they're scattered all over your hard drive. You could use the Organizer to locate them (via History folders or your Explorer/Window folders) and confirm they're the PDFs you want by looking at their Page thumbnails and file details. Then you can gather them together, sort of, by dragging each PDF's thumbnail onto a single Collection folder. Remember, you're not moving the PDFs, just making aliases to them.

When you're done, click the Collection folder to see thumbnails of all these PDFs in the Files pane. Select all the thumbnails (using the handy Select All button, perhaps), and then click the Create PDF from Multiple Files button at the top of the window. The usual Create from Multiple dialog box opens where you can change the order of the PDFs and do a few other things. Click OK and Acrobat creates and opens a single PDF made up of all the individual PDFs you selected (copies of them) in the order you specified.


Half my worklife is spent with PDFs, so the Organizer in Acrobat has saved me hours of time in finding them and doing things with them.

Still, if we can't have a Bridge-aware Acrobat, I wish the Organizer and the Bridge at least "spoke" with each other better. The Favorites, for example, aren't the same between the two programs. I spent some quality time in Bridge setting up my Favorite folders and was disappointed that the Organizer is totally unaware of these (and vice versa). Same thing is true for other custom settings such as Labels, which would be a convenient choice in Organizer's Sort menu.

Keywords that you assign to PDFs in Bridge aren't picked up by Organizer (you can Sort by Keywords in the Files section) even though they do appear in Acrobat's File > Document Properties window. Not sure why that is… it could be something wonky on my installation. Let me know if you have better luck.

And I often wish the Organizer was a little more powerful. I'd like to be able to rename PDFs, or to actually move them if I want. GoLive's site window lets you do this, as does Bridge, why can't Organizer? There's not even a New Folder or Trash can button anywhere. Finally, a little more oomph in the feature set for a PDF's individual pages would also be appreciated. I'd like to be able to use some of the Pages commands (Extract, Insert, Delete, etc.) in the Organizer, it seems like a natural extension.

Nonetheless, Organizer is a great addition to Acrobat 7, one that's been overlooked by most users dazzled with the new print production and commenting features. Trust me, Organizer is another dazzler. If you deal with a lot of PDFs every day … as most designers do … you owe it to yourself to check it out.

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