Checkboxes are back in Acrobat Comments… sort of…

Following on from my last post (or rant) about the removal of the checkbox in Adobe Acrobat’s commenting tools, I can report that the December 2018 release of Adobe Acrobat has brought back checkboxes within the commenting tools. However, it does come with some caveats:

It is an “opt-in” preference

Unfortunately, the ability to see checkboxes is off by default. If you are missing the checkboxes and want them back, you have to make sure that you have the following checkbox checked in your preferences:

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Checkboxes are only shown when comments are selected

Unlike earlier versions of Acrobat that would show all checkboxes (whether the comment was selected or not) the checkboxes will only appear once a comment is selected.

 

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I find this frustrating as I have to click on the comment to then have access to the checkbox, whereas in previous (admittedly older) versions, the checkboxes always appeared. Kelly Vaughn’s Document Geek site does a fantastic job of showing the different ways comments were handled in previous versions.

However, if all of the comments are selected, then all of the checkboxes become visible.

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Problem solved, right? Sadly, no. If any of those checkboxes are clicked, all checkboxes that appear will change state from unchecked to checked.

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So while checkboxes can appear in an unchecked state, the UI still has lots of room for improvement when compared to previous versions of Acrobat, or other paid PDF viewers such as Bluebeam Revue. For now, it’s a small win to see the checkboxes return.

The share button can be made smaller

Another UI fixup that was highly requested was the ability to remove the great big share button in the top right. Again, it’s there by default, but you can make it smaller by right clicking next to the button and selecting the Hide Share Button Label option:

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So the button won’t go away, but will at least be half the size:

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Déjà vu?

Unfortunately, this is the second time in recent years that myself and others had to twist the Acrobat team’s arm to bring back a feature that had been removed (or deprecated), such as the time that key tools from the commenting panel were removed before being reintroduced months later following user complaints.

In this instance, this isn’t the outcome that I (and many other users) were after, but at least it is a step in the right direction. Let’s hope that the next version of Acrobat introduce some of the community’s suggestions about the checkboxes, as well as other pain-points that can be found on the Acrobat Uservoice.

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Bring Back the Checkbox in Acrobat Comments

UPDATE 2019-01-10: Checkboxes were reintroduced in the December 2018 update of Adobe Acrobat. More information can be found here, but I will keep this article visible for the sake of posterity.

At the beginning of October 2018, Adobe released its updates for Acrobat DC and Acrobat Reader DC. For those users who have the “Automatically install updates” checkbox checked in the Acrobat preferences, the update was installed without prompting.

Unfortunately, as part of this update, the Acrobat team removed a checkbox that is visible in the commenting panel when a comment is selected, as shown in the following image:
bringback01.jpgBy checking the checkbox on or off, it allows the comments to be filtered as checked or unchecked – quite handy when checking mark-ups that can’t be imported directly into InDesign’s new PDF comment import feature.

Strangely, while the checkbox was removed, it is still possible to mark a comment as checked, but this is done by right-clicking on the “Add checkmark” option of the contextual menu.
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Thinking this must be a bug, I went onto the Adobe Acrobat forums to see what was going on, only to be astonished that this was not a bug, but an intentional change:
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However, I completely disagree with the terms “clean and intuitive to use” and would substitute the terms “ludicrous and mind-boggling“. The idea of a checkmark is to either check it or uncheck it. If it is not possible to check the checkmark because it is not there, to me that is not intuitive, that is frustrating.

In my mind, this user interface change is the equivalent of removing the right indicator signal on a car, and activating the right indicator required changing the radio station twice.

Once I knew the workaround of using the contextual menu to click on the checkbox, I was still frustrated as this triples the amount of work to perform the same task. Instead of a one-step procedure of clicking a check box, the procedure now involves three steps:

  1. right click,
  2. scroll down,
  3. click the Add checkmark option.

This is fine if checking one item as marked, but if checking dozens – if not hundreds of these items – one at a time, that is an inconsiderate inconvenience.

Knowing the keyboard shortcut (Shift + K) is another workaround, but again this requires clicking on the comment(s) and then putting both hands on the keyboard to activate the shortcut.

For long-time readers of the Colecandoo blog, this may come as a sense of déjà vu, and that is because two years ago, a similar problem occurred.

Unlike the previous situation, I happened to be attending Adobe MAX 2018 in Los Angeles when the change had occurred, so was able to pass this feedback directly to the Senior Product Manager of Document Cloud. I took a selfie to prove that we in fact met while at MAX:
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To be fair on the Acrobat team, they have changed their stance and now listed the Uservoice issue as a planned one:

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However, despite going straight to the top about this issue, and having over 200 complaints to the Acrobat Uservoice page at the time of writing this article, the issue is STILL here.

In short, this is an important issue that many regular Acrobat users would like to see implemented now as a patch, rather than as a roll-back of the feature for the next scheduled release of Acrobat DC. I know the Acrobat team never intends to frustrate users, but keeping users waiting for this change back to be implemented is exacerbating the issue, especially when it was made clear through the Acrobat Uservoice that the change was unpopular.

My last comment on the matter is to those who design the UI/UX for Acrobat. When considering improvements for the software, please ask the users of the software what they would like implemented, and leave features alone if they are already there!

Is this why Data Merge PDFs are “throttled back”?

Some time ago, I wrote an article about the difference between Data Merge PDF Export vs regular PDF export. The article highlighted the difference between the two PDF exports, but not why the data merge PDF export appears to have been throttled. Admittedly, this seemed more of a curiosity than anything else, and no further research was undertaken.

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The Data Merge PDF export dialog box. The yellow highlight shows items that can’t be checked.

In October 2018, the issue was once again raised by a reader who asked about preparing tagged PDFs via the Data Merge palette for the purposes of Section 508 accessibility – a way tagging a PDF so that PDF-reading software with accessibility features can assist users with limited accessibility in various ways, such as the example of tagging an image with a description that can be read aloud for users with little- or no vision.

As I couldn’t offer an explanation, all I could do was point to my previous article and submit a request to the InDesign Uservoice team to allow the Export to PDF to have all features of a regular PDF.

Then one month later, I fielded a query on the Adobe InDesign Forums concerning Interactive PDF and Data Merge Conflict where a user had hyperlinks in an interactive PDF where data merge fields were present, even though they weren’t linking to anything.

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Notice the tooltip displayed by the name “Zolly” – text that was a Data Merge text field.

That reminded me of an article from InDesignSecrets about Ghost Hyperlinks explaining that data merge fields can also be shown in the hyperlinks panel, meaning merge fields are hyperlinks themselves.

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The highlighted field in the art is the data merge field, as well as hyperlink 2.

However, Data Merge can’t export to interactive PDF from the data merge panel, so the only way I could replicate the forum poster’s issue was to prepare an InDesign data merge file, navigate to a relevant record,  then go to the file menu and export an Interactive PDF of the visible record on the page.

It was at that moment it occurred to me that THIS may be the reason that the hyperlinks checkbox is greyed out from the “export to PDF” dialog box in the data merge palette – because the merge fields are – in effect – hyperlinks themselves, and having hyperlinks enabled would also make the variable text clickable in the resulting PDF, despite having no actual link to go to. It would also explain why data merge does not offer an “export to interactive PDF” option from the data merge palette.

So, despite having a “eureka” moment of solving why the exports were different, it also made me realise that – without overhauling the way data merge works in InDesign – it may be unlikely to directly export PDFs with hyperlinks or interactivity via the Data Merge Panel anytime soon.

It is worth noting that if the data merge is exported to an InDesign file first (as explained in my workaround linked at the start of the article), and then exported to an interactive PDF, these issues do not occur. However, it is double-handling.

Still, this is frustrating in a world moving online, particularly for marketers who want to prepare unique PDFs that contain:

  • Hyperlinks, not just for navigating to URLs, but within the PDF itself, such as footnotes or page navigation;
  • Interactivity such as form fields for the purposes of surveys and feedback; and
  • Accessibility, not only from the legal standpoint of Section 508 conformance, but the genuine desire to engage with people with limited accessibility.

On that note, isn’t it about time to update the data merge feature so that exports are no longer limited to throttled-back PDFs or InDesign files as their only options? As an addition, how about the ability to print a merge directly from a data merge file, a feature that has been available in Microsoft Word for nearly thirty years.

Or what about the ability to merge to uniquely named files based on each record, something that I’ve already prepared a script for but would welcome as part of the InDesign user interface. And why stop at full-throttle PDFs… how about image formats such as jpg or png, or other formats such as html? Statistics from an InDesignSecrets poll show that print PDFs account for just under half of the participants’ usual file output exports.

Change the background highlight of PDF form fields in a document

During the CreativePro conference in New Orleans, a question was raised during Chad Chelius’ session about Designing forms in InDesign and Acrobat: how to change the background highlight colour of the fill-in forms within Adobe Acrobat. It is possible to change the value of that colour via the Highlight Colour from the preferences panel, but this is an application-wide change, and changing the colour in one form will change the colour for all documents that are opened thereafter.

fig1

This will also only change the colour on the viewer’s PDF, not the PDF itself.

Luckily, it is possible to change the colour via scripting that will affect the current form but leave others alone. Take the following example – in this form, I would like the background to be grey, rather than the default blue:

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Open the PDF that needs the background to change and open the page thumbnails panel. Right click on the page and select the page properties item.

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In the new dialog, go to the Actions tab at the top right, and then add two actions: on Page Open, run a javascript, and on page close, run a javascript.

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Click on the Page Open Run a Javascript selection and click edit, and in the new window, type the following and click OK.

fig4A

Click on the Page Close Run a Javascript selection and click edit, and in the new window, type the following and click OK.

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Repeat adding the page level scripts for each page in the PDF. This example has one page, but for a four page PDF, this would need to be done on each page of the PDF.

Save and close the PDF. Open the PDF again and the background has now changed to gray.

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The two javascripts work by saving the current application preferences into memory, and then changing the preferences until the document is closed, and then reloads the original preferences.

The background of any PDF form opened will now be gray until the PDF is closed, so close the PDF and open another PDF to confirm that the background returns to normal.

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If you would like colours other than gray, the javascript syntax for the colour can be found here:

A similar technique is shown in this article in the Acrobat Users forums.

 

 

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