Adobe's Acrobat software has evolved beyond merely reading Adobe's Portable Document Format files. With the new Acrobat 9, Adobe adds features that elevate Acrobat to a potential must-have application for business and individuals alike.

You can choose among three flavors of Acrobat: the $299 Standard (which includes the cool new PDF Portfolio feature), the $449 Pro (which adds additional options to Portfolio), and the $699 Pro Extended (which now bundles Adobe Presenter for automating PowerPoint presentations with audio and video--previously a separate $500 application--and can convert various video file types to Flash video and has a 3D mapping overlay so you can create PDF maps). I looked at a late beta of the Pro Extended version.

Portfolio is one of the most useful additions to Acrobat in years. With Portfolio, you have the ability to very easily create a suite of related files and documents--complete with their own intro screen. Conceptually, this almost reminds me of how Apple's OS X 10.5 lets you group files and documents into related "Spaces." The difference here is that you can create a single document that you can send to others, too. The Portfolio can be read by the free Adobe Reader 9.

Creating a Portfolio is simple: Choose from among the existing file templates, and then choose the behavior and presentation within a file template (for example, you can opt for files to be lined up, or to revolve around in an iTunes CoverFlow-like fashion) for the welcome screen. Then you drag and drop what you want to be in this Portfolio into the container. Portfolios remain organic documents; you can add files and folders to an existing portfolio as needed. A Portfolio outputs as a .PDF document.

Since Acrobat 9 integrates support for Flash video--a first--you can even integrate an .swf Flash application for viewing within the Portfolio. If you want to edit a file that's within a portfolio, no problem: Clicking on the file opens it in the appropriate application; you can then save the file and it closes back into the Portfolio.

Another nifty feature (in Pro and Pro Extended): the ability to compare two .PDF files, with the text and image differences highlighted so you can what's different. This document comparison could be useful for deciphering changes between versions of a document. Adobe has added a whole connected element to Acrobat (all three versions) as well; for on Acrobat.com, see "Adobe's Acrobat.com Document Collaboration Service."

PRO: Can handle Flash video

PRO: Creates useful Portfolio document groupings

CON: Pro Extended edition's high price for business only

PCW Rating: No rating (preproduction software)

Bottom line: Portfolio document groupings and inclusion of Flash video are useful additions