Alternatives to Adobe Reader

Category: Software

I have to deal with a lot of PDFs, and Adobe Reader just takes too long to open. Are there any good, free alternatives for PDF viewing?

Free Alternative PDF Viewers

Lots of people have been unhappy with the slow launch time of Adobe Reader, and the large amount of system resources it uses. As a result, several alternative PDF viewers have arisen, and they're all free. Check out one of these free PDF viewers as an alternative to Adobe Reader...

Foxit Reader

Foxit Reader is a lightweight, free PDF document viewer. You'll love the super-fast launch speed, and since it is compatible with the official PDF Standard, it can do just about everything Adobe Reader can do, but faster.

Oh, and did I mention that Foxit Reader is small and fast? The download file is only about 3MB, or TEN times smaller than the ponderous 35.7MB Adobe Reader download. After the quick download, installing Foxit Reader took me about 20 seconds. While installing Adobe Reader 9.1, I stopped counting when the wizard informed me that "This may take several minutes." And if you're concerned about the post-installation disk space footprint, consider that Adobe Reader will consume about 200MB of hard drive space, as compared to 7MB for Foxit.
Free PDF Viewers

Now let's get down to running the programs. One of the things I've always hated about Adobe Reader is that it takes forever to start. Adobe's version 9.1 is much faster than older versions, but if you don't have the latest, expect to wait 10 or 20 seconds for all sorts of splash pages to roll by. Foxit Reader takes about a second to load up a PDF on my computer. That's nice. And Foxit uses a lot less RAM memory while it's running too. After starting Foxit Reader, I opened the Task Manager and it showed that Foxit was using less than a megabyte of RAM, before loading a PDF. Comparing that to Adobe Reader, Task Manager show AcroRd32.exe consuming 27MB and Adobe_Updater sitting on another 10MB of RAM. Even after closing Adobe Reader, the Adobe_Updater needlessly remains in memory. And when opening PDFs from within the browser, I've noticed that sometimes the AcroRd32 module remains loaded, even after closing the PDF.

Foxit Reader has a nice annotation feature that allows you to draw graphics, highlight text, and make notes on a PDF document. You can also convert the PDF document into a simple text file. But watch out for a few little things during the installation. If you're not paying attention, the wizard will also install the Foxit Toolbar, change your browser start page to and put "convenient" eBay links on your desktop. Just uncheck those boxes if you don't want all that extra stuff. Foxit Reader is available for Windows 2000/XP/2003/Vista, Linux, mobile devices, and the U3 smart drive.

Mac PDF Viewing

You can download Adobe Reader for Mac OS X, but from what I've read, it has all the same drawbacks as the Windows version. And for most people, there's really no need to do so, since the Preview feature in Mac OS X will display most PDFs just fine, and is already configured as the default PDF viewer. Safari also opens PDFs directly in the browser window. There was a Mac version of Foxit Reader in the works a few years ago, but that project seems to have been abandoned. One caveat, if you work with PDFs that have fillable forms, you may need Adobe Reader for Mac.

PDF-XChange Viewer

The PDF-XChange Viewer is another alternative. PDF-XChange has some interesting features, such as the ability to type directly into a PDF page, even in documents that are not forms-enabled. You can also add comments and annotations, in text or image form, or export pages in text BMP, JPEG, TIFF, PNG and other formats. PDF-XChange can also fill and save Adobe forms.

PDF-XChange is available for Windows and also comes in a portable version. A paid PRO version offers many additional features, such as PDF creation and integration with MS Office.

Sumatra PDF Viewer

The Sumatra PDF Viewer is yet another free PDF viewer. It's a small open-source PDF viewer for Windows. Krzysztof Kowalczyk, the creator of Sumatra, decided to give priority to simplicity and minimalism in his design, so you won't see a lot of fancy features -- just a basic PDF viewer.

Sumatra starts up very fast, and because it's just one file with no dependencies, it's perfect for use as a portable app on your USB drive. Sumatra has an active user community, and has been translated into dozens of languages. And since it's open source, you can even download and view the source code, if you want to learn how it works, or add a new feature.

Adobe Reader Light

I should also mention the Adobe Reader Light project. A couple of clever people have figured out that the Adobe Reader install files can be modified to remove some features and plugins that the average user has no need for. If you don't mind mucking about in the install files with a text editor, and then modifying some entries in the Windows registry, you can end up with a smaller, faster variant of Reader. But since doing that violates the Adobe license and copyright, you can't just download a ready-made Reader Light executable file. My opinion is that creating your own Adobe Reader Light is a waste of time, since you have Foxit Reader and others that don't require any geeky modifications.

Got comments or questions about alternative PDF viewers? Post your thoughts below...

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Most recent comments on "Alternatives to Adobe Reader"

(See all 24 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

olivia mccourt
25 Jun 2009

Thanks Bob, I chose foxit right away. Big improvement!!

Posted by:

26 Jun 2009

To Stan:
Now many OCR programs can convert pdf to other formats including MS Word. MFC or scaner comes with free OCR program. Among commercial programs I'd rank Abbyy Fine Reader as one of the best. Another oprtion is Cuneform. Originally they are Russian programs. Russians have Cyrillic alphabet, so their programs have to be ready to recognize more complicated source materials that gives them some advantages over others.

I use Foxit Reader and happy. It has some nice additonal functions. It works fine with Opera browser, but it is neccessary to make some changes in Opera settings manually. Maybe FireFox needs similar adjustments.

Posted by:

29 Jun 2009

How do you get the foxit reader without the toolbar and ebay links? I began downloading Foxit Reader and when it got to the set up screen, it said if i clicked next that it would install it with a Foxit toolbar, so I did not go any further. Help! Thanks!

EDITOR'S NOTE: As I mentioned in the article, just uncheck all the boxes in the install wizard.

Posted by:

05 Jul 2009

Thank you Bob. You fixed a big problem I had.
I work with Open Office, and had to distribute a spreadsheet. Most people could not read it. So I had it converted to a PDF file by Foxit, and resent it. Voila! Everybody was happy. It's a great program.


Posted by:

09 Jul 2009

Although I recommend Foxit over Adobe, I must say that I've been even more impressed with PDF Xchange viewer.

Posted by:

Mark Jacobs
09 Jul 2009

The best things in life are free.

I've been using Foxit for years. It's also USB stick portable, but in rare cases there have been a couple of pdf files it couldn't open. I also recommend Cute pdf or PDF creator for saving your document as a pdf file. I use them both (on different machines). As far as I can see they're both equally good. One use I've found for PDF files is to "print" a web page as a PDF file instead of saving it and getting an html file and a whole directory of picture and format files to go along with it.

Posted by:

Edward Curtis
11 Jul 2009

I am thoroughly disgusted with computers; they always let me down when I most need them. A Realtor sent me a nine page contract to sign and return, unfortunately it is a PDF file. I downloaded Adobe Reader with my slow dial-up, and it opened the file, but my Epson Printer won't do anything because of one low color ink cartridge, even through I have a full black one and it is a text document.
Now, when I turn on my computer, I get an error message that Windows cannot find C;\ProgramFiles\NOS\bin|getPlus_HelperSvc.exe and to make sure the name is typed correctly. I have tried everything to get rid of that error message these last few days, to no avail. Uninstalling Adobe did not get rid of it.
So I am downloading Foxit reader, but it looks like I am stuck with this error message forever now.

Posted by:

15 Jul 2009

I have been using Primo PDF a freeware PDF read/writer for a while now to both read and write PDF files with get success and no hassles

Posted by:

08 Apr 2010

Greetings Bob! What did you do in IBM? I was a large system specialist for a while (best times of my life!), then worked at Research.

Re: Foxit. Seems that the latest version does not either convert the PDF to TXT nor allow you to copy-n-paste. sigh.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I worked in Poughkeepsie NY as a programmer. We supported a mechanical/thermal/power design group with CAD, database and expert system applications. Good times!

Posted by:

31 May 2011

At the moment PDF-XChange Viewer is the best alternative to Adobe Reader. It works outstanding. Each of these features you can try to use, even if it is PRO feature. This is versatile viewer/reader for pdfs. It offers for Free most features (more that other alternative softwares), such as different works with XFA form pdf files, signing document... The option Search is multifunctional. I can find a word or its part even in Bookmark in many pdfs. It offers different features to create/edit/delete Comments, Stamps, Bookmarks. It has many little details that makes my work pleasant and differs efficiently from others. Also I can export pdfs in different graphic formats. This software has a friendly interface and it's easy to work with it.

Posted by:

23 Jan 2012

There is also Nuance PDF Reader which is free. Nuance do several packages such as PDF Create, OmniPage, Dragon NaturallySpeaking speech recognition software etc. Sometimes if I print a document, from a word processor or database, to Nuance PDF create, Adobe reader cannot read the last page of the PDF, but Nuance PDF reader can.

Posted by:

24 Jan 2012

Sorry, it comes back to me that the problem mentioned in my last post (Adobe Reader being unable to read the last page of a PDF) is not caused when I use Nuance PDF Create to create the PDF, but when I use the 'Publish to PDF' command in WordPerfect X3. (In almost all other respects I find WordPerfect miles better than any other word processing software I have ever come across).

Posted by:

Michael Meder
01 Feb 2012

I tried Foxit for a while and was quite pleased. But then I went to print some postage at the USPS site, and it failed. The USPS help line would not help in any way: you must use Adobe or we don't support your installation. I tried to figure it all out, but found that it wasn't worth fighting city hall over, and went back to Adobe.

Posted by:

Adreas Sarry
11 Jun 2012

PDF-XChange Viewer is wonderful! Recently I tried to send pdf-file using the button “Send” in this file, but couldn't do it from Adobe. Then I'd switched to free PDF-XChange and sent my file by e-mail. After that I looked on PDF-XChange in detail and find it very interesting. It offer much more features Free, OCR, edit Bookmarks, comments, work with forms. Nice handy customizable interface and very fast work.

Posted by:

Mr IPz
15 Jan 2013

Foxit Reader is vulnerable???

Posted by:

07 Mar 2013

FoxIt has gotten a bit bigger I see. Gone from 3MB to over 15MB.

Posted by:

19 Apr 2013

Did you try new PDF-XChange Editor? This thing is really awesome.

Posted by:

14 May 2013

Foxit is 28.3MB as of today.

Posted by:

03 Aug 2013

I have used Foxit for a few years now. But it recently let me down when printing some pages from a PDF. For some reason it truncated the pages and I lost 2 or so inches of text at the bottom of each page. (Had checked all the configuation matters).
Now I use the free "Nitro Reader 3", which printed the pages completely and has been without any defects so far. Have used it for many months now and am unlikely to go back to Foxit.
Foxit is also now a lot larger than it started with.
But take each day as it comes.

Posted by:

12 Nov 2015

PDF-XChange Editor as substitute of Viewer is really nice alternative to Adobe. And, of course, it works better then Foxit. Pdf-XChange has excellent options to edit content, extended OCR, any manipulation with pages, work with bookmarks, measurement and much more functions, which you can use often or not so. As Viewer, Editor is the same lightweight and fast (and advanced features are the same cheap, what I like too). Any way, I can recommend to try it.

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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Alternatives to Adobe Reader (Posted: 24 Jun 2009)
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