Back to Courier Columns Page

by JB Burke

Q. Adobe Reader seems slow when opening PDF files. And I have heard that it is lacking in security. What is the best free alternative to Adobe Reader?

A. There are several good alternatives to Adobe Reader, and generally they open PDFs faster than Adobe, use fewer system resources (memory and CPU cycles), and they have good user interfaces and are easy to use.

My favorite is PDF-Xchange Viewer. This free utility is fast, and displays multiple open PDF files in a tabbed window, making it easy to navigate between documents. It includes a suite of tools for annotating and bookmarking documents, and it allows you to fill in PDF forms. This can help when you are asked to complete a form and FAX it back – just fill it, save it and email it back instead. You might also want to allow it to be your default viewer in your browser.

PDF-Xchange Viewer also has OCR capability – Optical Character Recognition. Many PDF documents are simply an image of the original document. That is, while you can read it on the screen, you can't search or edit the text. It's just a picture of the document page. OCR can fix that by converting it to searchable and editable text.

Just one caution … as with all free software, read every install screen carefully before clicking Next. This one wants to install the Ask toolbar. Be sure you opt out of that when you install it.

Another good choice for a PDF reader is Foxit Reader. The Foxit Reader is a bit faster than PDF-XChange viewer, but there's no OCR capability. The interface of Foxit Reader is more up to date than the others, providing both menu and ribbon options, similar to the latest versions of Microsoft Office. The document annotation tools are as good as those of PDF-XChange, and it provides interfaces to Evernote, Facebook, Twitter. Again, be very careful when installing, as it will try to install toolbars and change your system settings. Remember; always take the Custom or Expert install route when installing free software. Then uncheck every box that wants to load additional products.

Published: Courier 12/19/15 - Page 7A