How to View PDF Files

January 31, 2009

in applications

by David Hakala

PDF (Portable Document Format) is a standard file format seen everywhere on the Web, in software documentation, and in business. The “official” reader program for PDF files is the Acrobat Reader by Adobe Systems Inc., which invented the PDF format. However, Acrobat Reader is a rather large (33.5 MB download), cumbersome program. There are slimmer competitors that don’t slow your system down as much as Acrobat Reader. There are even ways to view PDF files without any software installed on your system.

The Foxit Reader for Windows is free, small (3.65 MB download) and powerful. You can email a PDF at the click of a button; select and copy text from a PDF; take a graphic snapshot of a section of a PDF; search for words or phrases in a PDF; all the normal things that people like to do. Many other options exist such as adding a text box or annotation to a PDF. But these items lead to pop-up windows inviting you to download and/or purchase some of Foxit’s commercial programs. The free Foxit Reader is all most people need. It even comes with plugins for Internet Explorer and Firefox.

PDF Reader! by Cadkas claims to be the first third-party PDF reader; in fact, Cadkas bluntly states on its home page, “Don’t trust Foxit Software. They claim they have the first PDF Editor but they released there program one year after our programs [sic] was available. They simply took our idea.” Be that as it may, PDF Reader! is a bit smaller than Foxit (2 MB vs. 3.65) and the user interface is not as slick. But both programs get the job done.

PDF Download by Nitro PDF Software is a plugin for the Firefox browser. It allows you to convert Web pages to PDF; convert Web pages into PDF files, and then save, share, print or archive them. You can view PDF as HTML, just like Google search results, for a faster browser viewing experience.

PDFEscape is another Firefox plugin that automatically uploads PDF files from Web links to a server that opens and allows you to edit them. It’s not quite done “without downloading or installing any software” as the company, CT Developing, claims; you still have to install the tiny Firefox plugin. But it allows you to fill in form fields and otherwise edit PDF files, then print or save them on your local computer. A slick Web-based service!

David Hakala has perpetrated technology tutorials since 1988 in addition to committing tech journalism, documentation, Web sites, marketing collateral, and profitable prose in general. His complete rap sheet can be seen at