The latest release of Adobe Digital Enterprise Platform Document Services - Designer is packed with some great features that have me really excited. Some are improvements to the existing toolset, such as macros, while others are completely new.

In this article, I share my list of top 10 Designer features, along with my reasons for selecting them.

Flash objects

While not strictly new, the ability to add SWF content to an XML Forms Architecture (XFA) form is now much easier.

Previously, you could place a SWF into an XFA form, but it had to be a static PDF form and the process was a bit convoluted. With Designer, it is now easy to have multiple instances of SWF content in your XFA forms, including dynamic XML forms as well as static PDF forms.

The Object Library has a new Flash object, which you can drag onto your form. When the object is selected, the Field tab in the Object palette provides easy access to key parameters (see Figure 1). For example, you can point the Flash object to an external SWF, which you have prepared previously in either Adobe Flash Professional or Adobe Flash Builder.

The Flash object may be self-contained if it does not need to communicate with the form. For example, you can insert a banner created with Flash that displays company information. Alternatively you can create dynamic charts in Flash Builder and set up the SWF to display values that are in the form. This provides dynamic real-time communication between the data on the form and the representation of that data in the Flash object.

With the many open source Flex examples and solutions available for Flash Builder, it is relatively easy for non-developers to get a simple chart working. Visit Tour de Flex for more than 450 samples and more than a little inspiration.

Bullets

I really like (and appreciate) the new bullet and numbered lists in Designer. This is not among the most high-tech of the new features, but it is certainly one that will make developing forms much easier.

If you have ever attempted to use a bullet list in Designer before, you too will appreciate the ease-of-use of this new feature. If you have never used bullets or number lists before, you'll have no problems. Both the bullet list controls and the number list controls are logically placed as new options in the Paragraph palette (see Figure 2).

The controls are intuitive. While the bullet list has a couple of styles, the number list is awash with more than 25 options from Numbers to Japanese Formal. In addition, you can also use compound lists.

Styles

In my view, the new Style Sheet functionality is the best new feature since fragments. In Designer, you can now easily establish styles for each of the main objects. The Styles Sheets are accessed via the new Style Catalog palette (see Figure 3).

Setting styles couldn't be easier. Simply select an object type that you want to style, for example a TextField, and then use the formatting tools in the Style Sheets, which are exactly the same as the tools in the Font, Paragraph, and Layout palettes. You don't need to learn a whole new approach to use styles; it will be as familiar to you as using the existing tools.

Best of all, you can store the Style Sheets externally (great for corporate environments) or inside the form itself (great for sharing the form during development). You can also swap the Style Sheets in and out of the form as required.

This is really going to help organizations that need to set and maintain a consistent corporate style for forms. The advantages of Style Sheets become more apparent when there is a change to the corporate branding. A single change in the external Style Sheet will be reflected when each form that references that Style Sheet is opened again in Designer. This is a great time saver!

Form properties control

The Form Properties dialog box has been upgraded in Designer. The existing tabs have been supplemented with some great new features, which give you more control over your forms.

For example, you can now access a Default Fonts tab and set the fonts for captions and values globally (see Figure 4).

This is a great feature when you have been using a variety of styles to develop a form, but want to standardize styles before you deploy the final version.

Tables

Tables now come with an editor around the border of the table, which makes it much easier to work with your tables at design time (see Figure 5).

This new capability provides quick and easy access to common tasks, which will help new developers work with tables.

Macros

While the ability to run macros within Designer was introduced in LiveCycle Designer ES2, it is now fully supported. It is great to see this feature become fully supported, as it encourages developers to continue to develop and share macros.

A macro is simply a JavaScript file that can be called from within Designer. You can use the macro to complete mundane or repetitive tasks, all with a single click.

You can also use Flash Builder to develop a simple user interface for the macro. This is particularly useful when you want to specify certain parameters for the macro.

There are a number of great macros that are shared openly in the community (see John Brinkman's blog, for example). I expect this sharing to increase, as awareness of the macro feature grows.

Bookmarks

Designer now lets you create bookmarks in your XFA forms. As with native PDFs, you can now open the Bookmarks panel in Acrobat and add the bookmarks to your static PDF forms and dynamic XML Forms.

This is a particularly useful feature for long forms, in which you want to help the user navigate the various sections in your form.

Custom Toolbars

You can now customize your toolbars in Designer. This will help you quickly access the commands that you use most often. In addition, you can build your own toolbars right inside Designer (see Figure 6).

I've used this new feature to tailor my workspace to suit the way I develop forms.

Separate Date and Time fields

One source of confusion that crops up regularly for new developers is the Date/Time Field object. Some developers initially struggle with the concept of combining both date and time in a single field, particularly when calculations or formatting are involved.

Designer introduces two new objects, Date Field and Time Field, to supplement the combined Date/Time Field object (see Figure 7).

The XML structure of these new objects is very similar to the existing Date/Time Field object's XML structure. I think developers who may have had difficulty with the original Date/Time field will find it easier to work with these two distinct fields.

Right-to-left flow direction

Last but not least, Designer now has a third flow direction option: Right to Left. When working with flowed pages or subforms, you can now specify Right to Left instead of Top to Bottom or Western Text (Left to Right).

This is a must have feature if you are developing forms using language sets that normally flow right to left, for example Arabic or Hebrew.

Where to go from here

Now that you've had a brief look at my top 10 Designer features, I encourage you to explore the new version of Designer on your own and find your own favorites.