No one should have to be an Acrobat to use PDFs

The Portable Document Format is great, but Adobe would have us believe that they're the only game in town when it comes to working with those types of files. That's not true at all; here are some of my preferred Acrobat alternatives.

I've had some horrible luck with Adobe's Acrobat product line in the past. From failed upgrade routines to inexplicable crashes, their products for Windows have never impressed me all that much. I also don't appreciate the fact that PDF creation is a privilege Adobe would have Windows users pay for. The Portable Document Format was developed with the intention of creating an open standard, and that's reflected on other operating systems. There are open-source PDF tools available for Unix and Linux platforms, and Mac OS X can create PDF files right out of the box.

I'm a firm believer in PDF as a durable document storage format, and my dissatisfaction with the tools Adobe would have us use to work with them sent me looking for other options. My requirements are pretty simple. I need to be able to reliably view PDF files, and I want to be able to make PDFs from my own documents, all without having to take out a bank loan to pay licensing fees. Check out a few of the ways I've found to avoid using Adobe Acrobat.

  • As I mentioned earlier, Mac users have it perhaps the easiest of us all. OS X can create PDFs from any document directly from the Print dialog with no additional software required. Also, Apple's included image viewer serves as a competent PDF reader.
  • The free OpenOffice suite can output documents as PDFs on Linux.
  • Ghostscript started out as a PDF interpreter for the Unix-like operating systems, and that project spawned Ghostview and GSview. Versions of these programs exist for Windows and Mac OS as well. The ps2pdf portion of the package will allow you to create PDFs from Postscript files.
  • My one-two punch for PDF productivity on Windows consists of Foxit Reader and PrimoPDF. While neither of these packages are open source, both are free. Foxit Reader is a lightweight PDF viewer that's been able to handle everything that I've thrown at it. All that it's missing when compared to Adobe's Reader is a browser plugin, but frankly, Foxit's so fast at rendering files that the omission doesn't really bother me. PrimoPDF creates a virtual printer that you can use to make PDF files from your own documents, and it includes the ability to embed password protection and custom metadata in your PDFs.

If your PDF management tasks aren't any more complicated than mine, any of these suggestions will serve you well. Fewer options exist if you need to edit inside your PDF files. No fear though, you don't have to go back to Adobe with your tail between your legs. Foxit Reader can be upgraded to add commenting features and editing capabilities at half the cost of Adobe's offerings. And for those who aren't afraid of using the command line, Sid Steward's pdftk is a great PDF multi-tool that is freely available for all major operating systems.

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