Jewish World Review Nov. 24, 2004 / 11 Kislev 5765

Three 'cult' items: two good, one bad

By Mark Kellner | THE CULT OF ACROBAT: Adobe Acrobat Professional, released last week in its 7.0 incarnation, is an amazing tool for those who need to put documents together in ways that can be easily read, annotated and shared. Used properly, this program can revolutionize the way an organization transacts business.

Too broad a claim, you say? Consider: this new version will take a hodge-podge of files, Microsoft Word and Excel documents, pictures, and Adobe's own PDF (Portable Document File) documents and assemble them together into one "super PDF," which can be arranged and rearranged at will. The final product would be smaller and less subject to tampering than any other method of document assembly I've seen. This could mark a new way of developing corporate reports, and even book-length documents.

If you're using Microsoft Outlook on a Windows-based PC, it gets even better: the new Acrobat Professional will convert selected e-mails or an entire Outlook message folder into Adobe PDF files. The e-mail's attachments and hyperlinks are retained, the firm said in a statement, and the new PDF files contain bookmarks for each e-mails, sorted by sender, date, and subject.

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Revolutionary? I think that's a rather modest term, when you consider all that's available. The price tag for the Professional version is steep -- $449 - but the capabilities found in the software will be invaluable for many in business, government and education. The $159 upgrade price for present users of Acrobat Professional is a bit easier to handle, perhaps, but also well worth it.

Adobe also released a new version of its free Acrobat Reader - and it's well worth downloading, not least for its interaction with some of the new features in Acrobat Professional 7. I can never say enough good abou Acrobat; details on all these items can be found at

THE CULT OF MAC: is not only a worldview, but it's also the title of an amazing, if slightly scary, book by Leander Kahney, $39.95 from No Starch Press in San Francisco. Yes, you'll read about the people with Mac tattoos and haircuts, the fellow who makes furniture from cardboard Mac boxes, but you'll get much more of the "backstory" behind the soon-to-be-21-year-old Macintosh, its culture and its devotees, who could easily be called "cultic" in their devotion to the platform.

I know, having been a Mac user for over 14 years. There's something about Macs, even older and less-than-functional ones, that inspire loyalty from users that goes way beyond anything else in the computer world. I've used, and liked, lots of MS-DOS or Windows PCs in my time, but can't think of a one that I'd want to preserve as a collectible. On the other hand, an old Apple Newton handheld is carefully packed away, and I still remember the first "boing" from my Mac Iisi.

Kahney's informal history of the Mac is interspersed with trivia and delightful details, intriguing photos, and is wrapped up in an entertaining style. This is a coffee table book that only a geek might love - but it's also one lots of people will enjoy reading.

THE CULT OF POOR COMMUNICATIONS: Unfortunately, it's still practiced by several folks in the Internet space, such as, one of the larger Internet Web registrars and Web hosts, as well as by Comcast Communications.

Both firms are seemingly steadfast in their refusal to have an easy-to-find "network status screen" on their customer support sites. Instead, customers - the folks who pay cash for services provided by each firm, it should be noted - have to dial in to a telephone line, assiduously work through an automated call director, and then, maybe, get a straight answer to a given question. In the case of Comcast, the screening process is made even more fun since the phone number you're asked to punch in never shows up on the customer representative's terminal, meaning you get to repeat information already provided.

Such obdurate service practices beg for scorn and ridicule. Repeated pleas to GoDaddy to change their ways apparently fell on deaf ears; an e-mail to Comcast's public relations agency last week has yet to yield an answer. A solution? Consumers should demand better service from their providers, and find better providers where possible.

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JWR contributor Mark Kellner has reported on technology for industry newspapers and magazines since 1983, and has been the computer columnist for The Washington Times since 1991.Comment by clicking here.

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