Does Adobe Reader XI Change Reader Extensions' Usefulness?

Adobe announced changes in Reader XI back in October, letting you save forms without being Reader Extended. It was described, however briefly, in the announcement as “fill in the form. Then save and submit. That’s all there is to it.” A bit more detail came out on infographic and video tutorial as well as Jeff Stanier’s comment on the LiveCycle LinkedIn forum.

Reader XI provides the ability to comment on PDFs and save Acroforms with data without first Reader Extending the document. XFA forms continue to require the form to be Reader Extended in order save the form and data. Acroforms are great for simple fill and print forms while XFA forms are targeted at enterprise use which includes backend integration through XML schemas, workflow processing, form fragments, dynamic layout, stylesheets and much more. There are many other Reader features which continue to require the document to be Reader Extended before they can be used in the free reader. These include 2D interactive barcodes, certificate based digital signatures, submitting file attachments, as well as direct database and web service interaction. It’s also important to keep in mind that if you are providing PDFs to a user base where you don’t control the desktop, they may still be using Reader 9 or 10. Those users will still need a Reader Extended document in order to comment on it or save the form with data if it’s an Acroform. I hope that helps to clarify things.

Let’s parse Jeff’s statement a bit more and embellish a few details. A simple view is that all forms can be saved. In practice, there are exceptions

  • XFA forms, created with the LiveCycle Designer and it’s bevy of great features, still need to be reader-extended. [Designer is a powerful tool that lets you design the form background and fields with flexible page layout, all with direct access to XML data, form fragments (form bits by reference) and many other features.]
  • If you use advanced  features in either Acroforms or XFA forms such as (the right number and name from the previous Reader Extensions post are referenced)
    • Signing with PKI-based digital signatures (EchoSign is not impacted) [6 – Signing]
    • Printing interactive two-dimensional barcode (PDF417, QR or Datamatrix) based on data in the form [9 – BarcodePlaintext]
    • Calling external code or fetching data with web service calls on any platform (SOAP) or direct database calls (ADBC) [11 – FormOnline]
    • Modifying embedded data/file objects [12 – EFModify]
    • If your user community has not uniformly upgraded to Reader XI, you must  accommodate  Reader X and 9: therefore,  you will still want to Reader-extend to allow form fill-in and commenting. This is true for both Acroforms and XFA forms.

Your users may be all the way back at Reader 7, which was the first version that has the current Reader Extensions technology. If you are a government agency or need to plan around people that have older hardware and software, you should reader extend, even if your  form designer may not want to test with five versions of Reader and people that are using software earlier than two versions back (Reader 9) are not receiving security patches.
The following table details the capabilities. There is a “Y” if the function is allowed and a “-” if it is not. There are also a few footnotes. The column headers are defined as

  • Reader Extended (LC) –enabled with full LiveCycle Reader Extensions rights and opened in Reader
  • Reader Extended (Pro) –enabled with Acrobat’s subset of LiveCycle Reader Extensions rights and opened in Reader (File/ SaveAs Other/ ReaderExtended) within the 500 use limit
  • Reader X – Opening the PDF in Reader X without any Reader Extensions (the same would be true with Acrobat 7 through 9)
  • Reader XI – Opening the PDF in Reader XI without any Reader Extensions
Right Name (link to table in previous post) Number Reader
Extended (LC)
Extended (Pro)
Reader X Reader XI
FormFillInAndSave 1 Y Y Y
FormImportExport 2 Y Y N(1)
FormAddDelete 3 Y Y Y
SubmitStandalone (historic for Reader 6) 4 Y Y Y Y
SpawnTemplate 5 Y(2) Y(2)
Signing 6 Y Y
AnnotModify 7 Y Y Y
AnnotImportExport 8 Y Y Y
BarcodePlaintext 9 Y
AnnotOnline (historic for Reader 7) 10
FormOnline 11 Y
EFModify 12 Y

1. There is no import or export UI made available in Reader. Import can be done through JavaScript, but export is not allowed in JavaScript.
2. SpawnTemplate does allow the creation of new pages from templates, but does not allow the deletion of these spawned pages or showing/hiding pages as full Acrobat does.
Adobe took a bold step when they allowed the local save of forms in Reader, as this enabled the function that many desktop users have desired for a long time. However, the devil is in the details if your organization plans a rollout of technology like this to a broad user base or desires to use advanced form functionality. Reader Extensions is still the way to go for advanced and broad usage, even as Reader XI develops a larger presence on computer desktops.

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