PDF Collaboration: WebDAV In Action – Microsoft’s Impact

Editor’s Note: This article is part of the PDF Collaboration: WebDAV In Action article

Although
we did not test any Microsoft applications, they will have a significant
impact on the use of online PDFs, especially in the corporate enterprise.
Since the majority of Acrobat users are not involved in traditional graphic
arts but are part of law firms, insurance agencies, government bodies
and so on, we can expect Microsoft’s and Adobe’s Web and collaboration
tools to develop a decidedly ‘corporate’ aspect.

Web Discussions

Microsoft’s
widely used Office Server products offer the possibility of exchanging
and requesting documents within an Intranet. The basis for this is the
‘Microsoft Web Discussions Repository’ available in various Microsoft
server applications. This technology, available only for the Windows environment,
requires the client to be running a recent operating system (Windows 95
OSR 2.0, Windows 98, NT 4.0, Windows ME or Windows 2000) and Microsoft
Office 2000. On the server side, an equally up-to-date server package
meeting the latest requirements is necessary. In addition, the Microsoft
Management Console or the Personal Web Manager must be installed. If these
requirements are met, the user can, given the appropriate network and
server permissions, select ‘Web Discussions’ in Acrobat’s ‘Online Comments’
Preferences, and can then share PDF files with colleagues via the Web
browser. The browser must be Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, and the discussion
server must be appropriately configured.

Adobe uses a simple and direct method of sending
commands to the server: the appropriate commands are appended to the URL
of the PDF file and are interpreted by the server. But the functionality
of this implementation is very limited. For example, binary data has to
be converted and transferred to the server in 64K blocks. Because the
data is broken up into strings and small blocks of data, occasionally
it gets stored on the server in the wrong order.

Database Issues: SQL and ODBC

The
incorporation of an SQL database, such as Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle
7 or Oracle 8i, expands the ‘virtual teamwork’ possible with Acrobat’s
online annotation into a real team effort. The ADBC (Acrobat Database
Connectivity) technology that makes its debut in version 5.0 allows Acrobat
to communicate with an SQL database via JavaScript. ADBC, based on Microsoft’s
ODBC, permits easy data exchange. Unfortunately, however, it does not
support Macintosh users.

The system requirements for clients using the database
repository are identical to those for clients of the Microsoft Web Discussion
Server, but the server must be set up with an SQL database and the client
must install the appropriate driver. ‘Repository,’ in this context, means
an archive containing all document annotations and monitored by a server-side
version-control system. The required driver can be selected during installation
of either Office 2000 or the Microsoft SQL client. If an Oracle database
is used, an Oracle license for each client is required.

It is not a trivial task for the system administrator
to configure the preferences correctly. After the preferences have been
set in Acrobat, the administrator must define the corresponding server
and database settings. From then on, all annotations will be stored in
the ‘CollabDB’ database, permitting team members to access them. Each
document is kept as a separate table, and each annotation is stored hierarchically
as a row in the table. The notable aspect of this is that each annotation
is stored in the database as JavaScript. The size limit on annotations
is around 2 GB, which should be plenty for normal uses. To make implementing
the server a bit easier, Adobe offers an FDF that automatically defines
the database settings. The necessary files for this are on the CD-ROM
of the full version of Acrobat.

The use of PDF in databases is still in its infancy.
Several small developers are in the process of developing solutions based
on Oracle, with release anticipated in the fall of 2001 or early in 2002.

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About the Author: Bernd Zipper

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