Five lightweight and free PDF viewers

Jack Wallen shares his choice of the five best small footprint PDF viewers that can easily replace Adobe Reader.

The Portable Document Format (PDF) is one of the most oft-used document types in business. Not only are they a more universal solution to creating well-designed documents, they can also be interactive and secure. So PDFs are a no-brainer for businesses looking for a professional-looking document.

When it comes to viewing those documents, most users believe there to be only one solution - Adobe Reader. However, in many instances, that solution is far and away from the best. It's bulky, slow, and is known to cause issues. To that end, why not use a more lightweight viewer for PDF documents? They exist and many of them are quite good.

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I have come up with what I believe are the five best small footprint PDF viewers that you can use to easily replace Adobe Reader. Let's see which ones made the list.

The Five Apps

1. Foxit Reader

Foxit Reader is, hands down, one of the best alternative PDF viewers for the Windows platform. It's fast, lightweight, has tons of features, and it is free. Foxit Reader also includes the ability to collaborate with other users on PDF documents. With the collaboration feature you can add annotations to PDFs, fill out PDF forms, and share information with social networks. Foxit Reader also provides integration with Docusign to enable users to send, receive, and save documents using the industry standard security platform.

2. Evince

Evince is the GNOME default PDF viewer. It's incredibly lightweight and allows the user to view multiple types of documents. With this simple viewer PDF, Postscript, djvu, tiff, dvi, XPS, SyncTex (support with gedit), and comics books (cbr,cbz,cb7 and cbt) can be viewed. Evince feature-list is short, but useful: View PDFs, view thumbnails, search, view document indexes, print documents, and encrypted document viewing. What more do you need from a PDF viewer? How about speed? Evince is one of the fastest viewers you'll find on the market.

3. Sumatra

Sumatra is another free PDF alternative for the Windows platform. Sumatra is also an open source project, so you can not only download the installation files, you can download the source as well. Sumatra features: Read PDFs and ebooks (ePub and MOBI), tiny footprint, and portable. Very much along the lines of Evince, Sumatra keeps things fast and easy by keeping them simple.

4. SlimPDF

SlimPDF is one of the lightest of the lightweight (coming in at only 1.43 MB) readers for the Windows platform. SlimPDF also offers a plugin (not free) to enable the conversion of PDFs to .doc, .xls, and .ppt files. For anyone that is looking to replace Adobe Reader with a lightning fast application that uses little in the way of resources, SlimPDF is the tool. The company that created SlimPDF also offers an inexpensive PDF Creator tool called Sonic PDF Creator, which retails for $49.95.

5. Nuance PDF Reader

Nuance PDF Reader is the lightweight PDF reader, for the Windows platform, with an abundance of features. It amazes me how this app can squeeze in so many features, yet still retain a smaller footprint than Adobe. With Nuance you can: Convert PDF files to Word, Excel, and RTF (via a hosted web service); use annotation tools (highlight, cross-out, and underline text); fill out and save PDF forms; read virtually any PDF file (including PDF portfolios); print with comments; search; view embedded movies; verify signed documents.

More than one solution

Without PDFs, so much of the world of business would suffer. Thankfully, end-users are not limited to one, overly-bloated, solution named Adobe Reader. Any one of these PDF viewers can easily take the place of Adobe (depending upon your needs). If you're looking for the very basics, look at SlimPDF, Sumatra, or Evince. If you need something feature-rich, look at Foxit or Nuance. One way or another, you are covered for all your PDF viewing needs.

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Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website

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