- Chuck Gray
You wouldn’t know it by the state of things, but Adobe Reader isn’t the end-all, be-all of PDF. Standing for "Portable Document Format," PDF is a file format used to maintain the uniform appearance of a document no matter what type of hardware or software is being used to view it. You will see it used frequently for government documents such as IRS and court forms, job applications, ebooks and more since it looks the same everywhere. Adobe may have created the PDF format, but they made it a free-for-all file format in 2008, resulting in software for reading and creating PDFs that rival Adobe’s own.
You might be asking yourself ,“Why would I want to switch from Acrobat Reader?” Over the years Adobe Reader (once known as Acrobat Reader) has become a horribly bloated program that takes entirely too much space on your hard drive and, in my opinion, an unacceptable amount of RAM to use. It’s slow to load and slower to use. Furthermore, Adobe is constantly releasing updates for the program; it seems like every other time I turn on my Windows 7 computer there’s a notification for an Adobe Reader update, and I’m growing tired of it.
So what are our alternatives?
Foxit is a lightweight, fast PDF viewer with pretty much all the same functionality as Adobe Reader except that it offers one feature that Adobe does not: you can save your completed forms! All interactive features of specially-designed PDF documents, such as the “Highlight Fields” and “Clear All Data” buttons in the form displayed above are completely usable. Foxit also offers a line of PDF creation and editing tools that are a far sight cheaper than Adobe Acrobat. Foxit is my preferred PDF viewer.
Although it takes up roughly the same amount of hard disk space as Foxit, Evince uses roughly a quarter as much RAM, meaning it will load and run faster, making it a good match for aging computers. It, too, allows users to save copies of their work, but I found the text entry to be unreliable - at times text that I inputted would disappear after I moved on to another field, but when I went back to edit the fields in question the text would reappear. Interactive features also seem to be disabled, such as the buttons in the above form. Evince sports a much slimmer interface than Foxit. Fewer buttons means fewer options but also less confusion.
Sumatra uses slightly more RAM than Evince, but it only takes up a couple of megabytes on your computer’s hard disk. It, like Evince, has a highly streamlined interface. In addition to PDFs, Sumatra can also be used to read non-copy-protected eBooks using the ePub and Mobi formats, XPS, DjVu and CHM files, as well as comic books using the CBZ and CBR formats. However it is only a reader, not an editor, so no changes can be made to forms with active text fields. This is a great PDF viewer to be used in conjunction with the free Portable Apps usb thumb drive suite given its small size.
You don’t need to pay anything either to create simple PDFs. Using the free LibreOffice suite, an open source alternative to Microsoft Office, you can create documents that look exactly the way you want them to using text and pictures and charts and whatever else, then use the export to PDF feature, as displayed below:
So, if you’re sick of Adobe’s apparent monopoly on all things PDF, have no fear, you need not stomach another update message ever again . . . well, at least not for Adobe Reader . . .