Acrobat.com challenges PowerPoint with collaborative presentations

Acrobat.com, Adobe’s website of free office software, is unveiling a new tool today that marks the early steps towards competing with PowerPoint, the ubiquitous presentation-making software in Microsoft Office. As a part of Acrobat.com Labs, Presentations is still in early testing mode, with many features still to come. But judging from the demonstration that Adobe’s Erik Larson gave me last week (including a presentation made in Acrobat.com Presentations, naturally), there’s a solid core for Adobe to build around.

I haven’t actually used Presentations yet, but I have tried out other Acrobat.com products like the Buzzword word processor. The tools are built for the web, using Adobe’s Flash format, meaning that they’re genuinely beautiful, and have a decent set of features, but also enable online collaboration. In comparison, Google Docs and related services feel a bit bare-bones, while the web version of Microsoft Office won’t come until the release of Office 2010. Larson says that since Acrobat.com launched publicly a little less than a year ago, it has acquired 4 million registered users, with 100,000 more signing up each week.

Even though it’s lacking some key features, Presentations seems to have been made with the same determination to build a genuinely rich web application, rather than a stripped-down version of a desktop app with collaboration bolted on. As you’d expect from presentation-making software, you drag and drop the different shapes, text, and other media that you want to add into the presentation. One of the neat features offered by Adobe is the fact that different items can be bundled together in groups, so if a user wants to adjust a box of text, an image, and a video at the same time, the size of all the objects in that group will be adjusted accordingly, so that each element is still proportional to the other.

Of course, the key feature of Acrobat.com is the collaboration it allows. In Presentations, different team members (and who hasn’t had to work with a team on a PowerPoint presentation at some point?) can work on slides at the same time, while seeing who else is working on the same thing. Unfortunately, there’s no instant messaging feature yet, but Larson says it’s coming.

Other features still to come include the ability to export and import to PowerPoint, or to add a chart or a graph. As for the entire Acrobat.com site, Larson says Adobe will be introducing a pay version later this year.

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