Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Two Adobe Reader alternatives


I deal a lot with PDF files in my work. Like most people I use Adobe Reader to view them. Adobe Reader has recently hit version 8. It works, looks and feels sleeker than the previous versions. However, Adobe Reader 8 is not problem-free. It can be slow at times, and I really dislike the way it downloads and installs updates automatically (God knows what the Adobe people are sending into our hard disks). Despite those annoyances, Reader 8 (according to some professional opinion, like people in publishing) is the best viewer/renderer of PDF. No surprises here, Adobe is after all the creator of the PDF.

Thank God nowadays we have other ways of viewing PDF files. If Adobe Reader isn't up to your expectations, there's at least two other PDF viewers for Windows you can try. They might others out there, but I've tried these two out and I'm currently using them.

Foxit Reader 2.0

Foxit Reader is not only small and fast, it doesn't require any installation. I loaded Foxit Reader into my USB drive and used it on a friend's laptop who didn't have Adobe Reader. No more worries about PCs without Adobe Reader installed.

Foxit Reader comes with one interesting feature: the typewriter tool. This tool allows us to type in text onto the PDF files like in a word processor (MS Word, and other similar software). I'm not sure if the new Adobe Reader 8 has this feature.

It tested the typewriter tool on a PDF application form, which was basically the PDF version of the hard copy. Typing in simple text strings like names and addresses was straight forward, but getting the I/C no. digits into the separate boxes required a bit of spacing manipulation. It turns out that typed in text using can't be edited or deleted easily, so it's a good idea to use a copy of the original form, not the original.

My issue with the earlier Foxit Reader version was its PDF rendering capability. Compared to Adobe Reader, the the texts PDF files viewed using Foxit Reader 1.0+ sometimes looked jagged (anti-aliased). But the new 2.0 version's rendering capability is comparable to Adobe Reader. Hat offs, Foxit, for the major improvement.

Now for the not-so-good news. Foxit Reader's text selection tool is not as responsive as Adobe Reader's. I had problems selecting texts in the middle of a paragraph in Foxit Reader. If you copy a lot of text from PDF files like I do at work, I strongly suggest you stick with Adobe Reader for the moment.

One of the features I look for is full screen view, which allows us to view the PDF document sans everything else on screen. It helps me to concentrate on reading them. In full screen view, Foxit reader will display an icon on the top left of the screen that will revert the interface to normal view when clicked. I find the medium-sized icon distracting and obstructive, since it does cover the text underneath it (if there's any).

Overall, Foxit is a good PDF viewer. Its typewriter tool feature is a nice one, but still in need of further improvements. The main reasons to have (and love) Foxit Reader are because it's portable, it's free and can do most of what Adobe Reader is capable of.


If Foxit reader is Speedy Gonzales-fast, SumatraPDF can run at Sonic the Hedgehog speed.

Sumatra is an open source PDF viewer, something that'll interest you if you're software development. If you're a user like me, you'll be just happy to know that SumatraPDF is a freeware. It's currently in Beta version 0.5.

SumatraPDF is a PDF viewer, no more, no less. Besides common functions like printing, it doesn't do anything else. Totally bare bones.

In the rendering department, SumatraPDF is a shining star, thanks to the MuPDF rendering engine. The graphic and fonts rendering is at par with Adobe and Foxit. I also find it's interface to be simplest and the least cluttered.

On the other hand, SumatraPDF doesn't have any selection tools for text or image, a major reason why I can't use it extensively for my work. Unlike the portable Foxit Reader, SumatraPDF requires installation. And sadly for me, there's no full screen view option. However, it doesn't do any automatic updating like Adobe Reader and takes very little hard disk space.

UPDATE 1: I just found a really clever thing about SumatraPDF. It remembers the last page of the PDF document that I read and opens it on that page the next time I view it. For example, I'm reading a long article in SumatraPDF until page 9 before I exited. When I view the article again, SumatraPDF will start displaying at page 9, not at the beginning. This is great for those long (100 pages or more) PDF documents.

UPDATE 2: (Just found that Adobe Reader also has this feature...)

SumatraPDF does the one thing it's supposed to, but does it very well. Everything a PDF viewer should be, minus the extras, plus the speed.
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