A reader named Kirk Holbrook raised some interesting issues in response to my column on Acrobat and InfoPath. Although he addressed his email to me, Kirk was really hoping for a response from Chuck Myers, the Adobe executive whose conversation with me I reported in the column. Below I have reprinted Kirk's message (with his permission), and Chuck's response, relayed to me by an Adobe PR representative and also reprinted with permission. It's an interesting and useful exchange, but one that wouldn't have come to light without several intermediaries. I was happy to help in this case, but such intermediation clearly won't scale. I continue to believe that thoughtful, articulate, and passionate spokespeople like Chuck would be doing themselves and their companies a favor by establishing weblogs and using them to address these kinds of issues in a proactive -- yet personable -- way.
Consider the security issue that Kirk raises, and Chuck's response to it. I gather that in this particular case, the risk is that the for-pay features of Acrobat could be unlocked in an unauthorized way. So Adobe stands to lose revenue, but neither the customer who uses ADSRE to enable advanced reader features (such as digital signature) nor the user of those features is at risk. Fair enough. But how can developers and users best exploit Acrobat's digital signature capabilities? What opportunities are being overlooked? What lessons have been learned? These are complex stories that can't adequately be told in whitepapers. They must evolve over time, revisiting the same issues from different perspectives, reacting to current events and public commentary, and finding an authentic voice. I know it's scary for companies to communicate that way. I wonder if we'll get to the point where it's scarier not to.
Kirk Holbrook's message
I've enjoyed your articles in InfoWorld for some time now. I just read your article about Adobe and XML and have a few comments.
First, I agree that Acrobat is a great tool. Simply using its "print this like it was meant to be printed" capabilities is only a fraction of what one can do with Acrobat. Several years ago I used Acrobat (3) for a multmedia CD-ROM project for a client who needed some rather advanced functions, but didn't have the budget for a more "advanced" solution -- it worked out well.
That said, I have some problems with Adobe's strategy for Acrobat forms. Document Server for Reader Extensions (DSRE) seems to be astronomically priced. I say "seems" because I have been unable to get ahold of anyone at Adobe who can give me a price (I've been trying for three days), although I did find an old press release from before DSRE was released that says pricing "starts at $75,000."
At the very least, Adobe needs to provide a service whereby Adobe will take a PDF that I create and enable these functions at a reasonable price -- the key here being reasonable. There are many small businesses that could make use of these functions in Reader. Reader has a huge distribution (although Adobe seems to think that the download is not an issue for users, as the Reader download is getting bigger and bigger) and most people do not need the complete functionality of the Full version of Acrobat. Acrobat Approval was a step in the right direction, but it seems to have been discontinued -- again, the key is price. Acrobat Standard to too pricy for small businesses to force their customers/clients to pony up the cash for.
Reader needs to provide a way for users to fill out Acrobat forms and save their data and print the form with the user's filled-in data (not simply the default data). As long as Reader cannot perform these two tasks (at a reasonable cost for PDF developers), there's no way that Acrobat will out sell InfoPath. InfoPath is built on top of MS Office, and as such has a much bigger foot in the door than Acrobat ever will -- at least until Adobe allows users with Reader to sign and save Acrobat forms data. When that happens (and I hope it's soon) Adobe can take over the world!
BTW there seem to be some issues with the manner in which DSRE signs PDF files as it enables the reader extensions. What's the sense in having a signed doc if it can easily be spoofed. See: http://lists.insecure.org/lists/vulnwatch/2003/Jan-Mar/0103.html
Thanks for your time and all the great articles,
Chuck Myers' response:
Jon (and, indirectly, Kirk),
There seem to be three questions:
1) Pricing for Adobe Document Server for Reader Extensions (ADSRE)
2) What ADSRE does and how it is positioned relative to our previous low-priced licensing-only Acrobat (Approval)
3) The ADSRE "spoofing issue" that Kirk mentions
The answers are:
1) Some of the pricing listed in the email is our first-round pricing from when we released the product last Fall (that was 75K for 10 forms, 1.5M for unlimited). Since then, we have refined the pricing with two models: form-based and user-based. Form-based (commercial) pricing starts at $6,250 per form (minimum number of forms is 10), and goes as low as $2,500/form for quantities over 500.
User-based pricing is intended to resolve issues when you have a large/infinite number of forms/documents and a smaller/finite number of users. A good hypothetical example is an insurance company that has 30 forms, each with 50 state variations (1,500 forms total) that they send to their 4,000 agents on a nationwide basis. Here, the per-user model is much more effective. In this case, the pricing starts at $59/user (minimum 250 users) and goes as low as $24 in volume.
2) ADSRE enables three basic functions: form fill-in and save, digital signatures, and offline comment/collaboration. Details can be found at http:\//www.adobe.com/products/server/ readerextensions/pdfs/ds_docserver_readerext.pdf or the flash-based demo at http:\//www.adobe.com/products/ server/readerextensions/main.html# (under Web tour). This is done for any document that has been run through the ADSRE server; it can then be used by any user of the free Adobe Reader, whether on Windows or Mac, as long as they use Reader 5.1 or above.
Acrobat Approval is still available for sale, but the user-based pricing for ADSRE is only slightly more than Approval was, and it gives more capabilities (most notably the annotation tools). Whether this ADSRE pricing fits the definition of "reasonable" is in the eye of the beholder; $59 is much less than the $299 for Acrobat Standard.
3) ADSRE Issue. Back in March, it appeared that Elcomsoft published the details of a method to enable advanced features in Reader. This does not pose any security risk to our customers who have implemented solutions based on ADSRE.
Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2003/09/04.html#a792