Software

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.

Also read:

About

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

32 comments
DiegoRodriguez
DiegoRodriguez

After I read the article I choose & install SlimPdf 1.0 because it is simple and light but I had problems with multiple pages pdf documents. When I open the document it display the first page and the program stop working when I try to change to next page. Now I trying FoxIt and it is working nice. Thanks

DiegoRodriguez
DiegoRodriguez

After I read the article I choose & install SlimPdf 1.0 because it is simple and light but I had problems with multiple pages pdf documents. When I open the document it display the first page and the program stop working when I try to change to next page. Now I trying FoxIt and it is working nice.If I found new problems I come back and post it. Thanks for the article!!!!

graemeearly
graemeearly

I had gotten a little bored with foxit reader and thought i'd see what was out there. tried nuance. clumsy installer (33MB versus 1.5 for foxit). required submission of email to download and *again* to "register" without which installer would not complete. okay, i think, let's see the software. hideous interface. *gigantic* ads. i could not uninstall it fast enough. foxit reader has none of these problems. i'm sorry i doubted you foxit reader. moral of this story: if it ain't broke don't fix it!!!!

ajlittlewood
ajlittlewood

I personally use PDFLite. It's a simple, no-nonsense PDF reader, editor and viewer. It opens all files and convert them to a PDF format. The same goes for converting PDF's to other file types like Word. I downloaded it here - http://www.pdflite.com/

stn564
stn564

Be nice if this article was available as a PDF too......

st.eve
st.eve

PDFXChange viewer has a free version - also well worth a look. not sure about the footprint, but features are good : full markup tools, export excerpts to image (with control of dpi). non-invasive software. windows only, sorry Jack JG, thanks for the inbuilt firefox reader tip!

Rauno
Rauno

Okular is the PDF reader of KDE desktop environment, available both for Windows and Linux. It uses the same backend than Evince (Poppler). The best features: 1) uncheck "follow DRM restriction" in the config and you can print restricted documents! 2) annotations can be saved in the document or in your personal folder: you can annotate a document without modifying it; it is more secure if you have to forward some documents to third parties; and several people can have their own annotations on the same shared document.

cfc2000
cfc2000

Several people say they still use Adobe for the printing options. I use Nitro or Foxit precisely because Adobe so often produces gobbledegook when printing. Something to do with embedded fonts. I don't really care as Foxit does the job so much better anyway.

rpr.nospam
rpr.nospam

In my organization we still use Adobe Reader (currently v. 10.1.4) on Windows. It is somewhat slow but has the best printing options: you can scale printed pages, make posters and booklets, it recognizes the markups in PDFs for press and can remove them while printing. Also with AR you can add comments, verify signed documents and digitally sign documents enabled for signing. But in my experience Adobe Reader has problems printing certain PDFs (scanned or with heavy graphics) with some printer drivers. In such occasions we have to use another PDF reader. I find Foxit Reader quite good but it wants to install junk software with it. On Ubuntu I use Evince which is fine. A feature that PDF readers generally lack is the ability to delete pages from a PDF file and to add/insert pages from another PDF file. IMHO, this is not complicated to implement and there are free tools that can do it (e.g. I use pdftk command line tool which is available for multiple OS').

dl_wraith
dl_wraith

...for Android? I do most of my reading on my tablets these days and rarely open a PDF on my home laptop or desktop and only occasionally on the work desktop. The Adobe PDF reader has all sorts of performance issues (with graphics heavy PDFs in particular) on the Android platform, too. I have two alternatives installed but neither render PDFs consistently (Perfect Viewer and the PDF reader in Polaris suite). In fact, one of them usually turns the readout to 'negative' whenever it sees text across an image and won't render the rest of the document properly after that! Anyone got experience of PDF reading on Android and have a favourite? By the way, I've felt for some time now that the PDF format isn't really a PDF format any more. File sizes seem bloated (not just the reader software) and the performance of some files is poor whatever reader you try. I really wish someone would pay more attention to the 'portable' in 'Portable Document Format' - or am I just being silly?

jonc2011
jonc2011

While it is large, I guess it works well. This needs pointing out in the article, I think. I say guess because I don't use it, but depend on Acrobat Standard which I use several times per day for editing, anotating, deleting pages, rotating, reducing file size, scanning to, printing and reading pdfs. While it is ridiculously expensive, I would hate to be without it. And I have used a number of lower cost paid alternatives (Cute, Foxit) and free versions (995). I still pay the money for Acrobat upgrades when my version stops working on a new operating system every 5 years or so.

JGSecurity
JGSecurity

I also prefer Nitro. The only thing I dont like about it is the Office-like Ribbon on top.

Geezer-In-Training
Geezer-In-Training

I have had problems with several web sites not giving me usable access to PDFs when I had Fox-It installed on my Win7 PC. The sites "insisted" on having Acrobat available before allowing me to read the files. Anyone else encounter this? Except for this problem, I much prefer Fox-It over Acrobat.

ibmtech
ibmtech

I have been using PDF-Xchange viewer for awhile - lightweight and lots of good features. Changed from Fox-it when it started to get bloated.

rruss5328
rruss5328

I've been using this to manage and fill in PDFs for some time, and it just got upgraded ... Very quick, more importantly, very safe - Try it and let me know that you think! No - this is -NOT- a paid endorsement.

SKDTech
SKDTech

Although it has begun to seem as bloated as Acrobat...

Craig_B
Craig_B

I used to use Foxit as a replacement of Adobe Reader however I have dropped it as it wants to install a bunch of other junk (various toolbars and the like). Adobe Reader is still bloated however they have improved the update process. On Windows I still just default to Adobe.

hometoy
hometoy

I don't know if this is available for Windows (but a number of Qt applications are being ported), but what about Okular?

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Are you and your organization still using Adobe Reader? Or have you adopted a different PDF viewer?

ADyson82
ADyson82

You can install Adobe Reader! Probably still bloatware by Android standards but at least you know it'll render consistently. For desktop, I heard a rumour that Firefox (or was it Chrome, I forget??) were planning a built-in PDF reader for viewing documents on the web. Can see why - I use Adobe Reader on Ubuntu and it's not the most stable. I'd use another reader but (a) some sites don't play nicely (see above) and (b) they don't open the PDF inside another tab

dl_wraith
dl_wraith

I got the same thing from some sites when trying to download tech specs and brochures from prospective suppliers. The solution: Simply switch to another browser. The problem for me only affected the foxit plugin on IE7/IE8. FireFox and Chrome both gave up the goodies.

marcdw
marcdw

First used XChange Viewer on Win98 I think. It became the default for me over the past few years and gets installed on whatever machine I have (including Win2K). It's also a part of Lucion's FileCenter. I remember dropping Fox-It a long time ago because I was annoyed that it kept changing the icons I had associated with PDF files everytime I opened a document. Minor I know but annoying none-the-less. As Geezer-In-Training said about Fox-It, some web sites won't display PDF files when XChange or Nuance's products are used as browser plug-ins. Wasn't sure what the problem was all this time until I saw it mentioned on Nuance's site.

FilipVW
FilipVW

People often (mis)use PDF as a format to send Word documents to others, asking then to fill in some info, sign it and send it back. Those are not PDF forms, but plain PDF text documents; which they must print, fill in by hand, sign, scan, en then send it back. With Nitro Reader you can do all the (free) "typing" directly on the PDF, stamp your signiture (with a password protected JPG), and send it straight back...

hansa
hansa

I prefer Nitro Reader to all the others. It is full-featured and not bloated.

Rauno
Rauno

Okular is indeed available for Windows. You have to use KDE installer yet the overhead is minimal if you only want Okular. I use it from time to time for specific tasks: 1) unprotect some documents (see my comment "Protected document printing with Okular") ; 2) extract loosely formated tables (rows and columns can be manually adjusted unlike Acrobat).

dl_wraith
dl_wraith

I was looking for good alternatives to the Adobe product. I have that installed on all my Android devices and am so far less than impressed.

davidp_1978
davidp_1978

I've associated pdf files to Chrome. It's far from perfect but it does mean one less piece of software to install. I'm using the canary build of Chrome which means more updates (including to the pdf viewer) but it's less stable.

JGSecurity
JGSecurity

To use Firefox' PDF reader (Which is still in beta, but works well), you must go into about:config and search for pdf.js then you can enable it, I don't remember exactly how I did it but it is self explanatory. Then you must also make sure you don't have another PDF reader that is automatically opening your pdfs in Firefox.

SkyNET32
SkyNET32

It's also most government sites that force you to use Adobe Reader. Ridiculous. Trying to use an alternate browser won't open.