Adobe's PDF has been around for 25 years, during which time it's become a de facto standard for sharing forms and for archiving documents, offering a way of locking down layouts and formats that works across devices and across platforms. It's an important part of the modern IT ecosystem, so what are the best ways of working with it in Windows 10?
We took a handful of tools for a spin, from Adobe's Document Cloud, from inside Windows itself, and from a quick visit to the Windows 10 Microsoft Store. Whether it's filling forms, just reading documents, sharing PDFs with colleagues, or proofing copy, Windows 10 offers plenty of options.
Acrobat Reader DC
The obvious solution is Adobe's own Acrobat Reader DC. Now part of Document Cloud, it's a free tool that can be linked to Adobe's cloud-hosted document platform, unlocking additional authoring capabilities as part of a subscription.
You don't need a subscription to use Acrobat Reader DC as a PDF viewer. Just download it, and it's ready to use. While Adobe's recent redesign of Acrobat means you're presented with large menu panes (many of which require Document Cloud subscriptions to use), they're easy to hide, giving you a clean, clear reading view.
Reader is, at heart, a PDF reader. While Document Cloud adds export and basic editing features, most of the time they're not really necessary and can be ignored. However, you can use it to comment on files, highlighting content and adding notes where necessary. Comments can be saved with a file and shared using your usual collaboration tools.
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One of the more important roles of a modern PDF tool is for form filling. You'll need to use the full Acrobat product to create new forms, but Reader works well if all you need to do is fill in the occasional form. There's even pen support, so you can use an actual signature if you're working with a Surface or similar. Adobe's own digital signature service, Adobe Sign, is supported, so if you're using it your users will be able to use Reader to sign official documents.
Even if you choose another PDF tool for day-to-day work, you'll probably want to keep Acrobat DC Reader around. Although Microsoft has its own PDF reader in Edge, the Windows 10 security model means it can't be used to render PDF attachments inside Outlook. Instead you're going to need another tool to handle PDF previews, and that's where having Acrobat Reader DC installed saves the day.
It took a long time for Microsoft to ship its own PDF reading tool. However it's here in Windows 10, as a built-in PDF viewer in the Edge browser.
Putting a PDF viewer in a browser makes sense; there's a lot of PDF content out there on the web, with forms, e-books, and documentation all in PDF formats. Clicking a PDF link in Edge is just opening a new tab, not a new app, simplifying working with PDF files and bringing them into the wider web without having to install a plug-in or an ActiveX control. If Edge is registered as the default PDF viewer, it'll also open any locally stored PDFs.
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The Edge PDF reader is simple enough. Once a document is loaded, you'll get an extra menu bar. This lets you zoom in and out of a document, and rotate it. There's an option to fit a PDF to the current window, or zoom it to full screen, or view a page at a time. A speech-to-text tool will read any text aloud, and you can also use a pen to add notes for quick annotations. Select content and you can add review notes, or highlight blocks of text. Familiar Edge shortcuts support searching, so you don't need to learn new ways of working.
This isn't just a tool for reading and annotating PDFs: Microsoft also supports form-filling, although you don't get access to pen for signatures and can't use Adobe Reader's built-in typing tools to add content in uneditable fields. Still, there's enough here for most basic operations — and if you need more, Adobe's tools are just a few clicks away. Edge is good enough for most basic PDF usage, and you don't need all the Document Cloud options that crowd out the basic functionality in Acrobat Reader DC.
Microsoft Office 365 ProPlus
While Office isn't really a PDF tool, Microsoft has added various PDF editing tools into Word over the years. It's easy to convert PDFs to Word, ready to extract and edit text, but don't expect it to preserve format: it's really just a way of getting PDF content into another tool, extracting text and basic formatting from the PDF file, using the open-standard PDF format as a guide.
Converting Office files to PDF is a more useful option, as you can print documents to a built-in PDF driver or save straight to PDF. Using PDF as an alternative to Office's file formats makes it easier to share ready-to-read copy with colleagues, or to deliver content to users who might not have access to Office.
There are over 800 PDF tools in the Microsoft Store, with a mix of free and paid-for software. Many are just basic PDF readers, but some are well worth installing. Among the better ones is Drawboard PDF, which provides a wide selection of PDF editing and creation tools. It's a powerful app, which takes advantage of many of Windows 10's UI tools and services, using a radial menu for quick access to tools. There's even support for the Surface Dial, which handles additional pen and tool selections, so you can be editing a PDF with a pen in one hand and a dial in the other.
Drawboard now also offers a Pro upgrade, with enhancements to document editing, supporting page reordering, as well as accurate measurement tools. While the standard version of Drawboard works well for most day-to-day usage, Pro adds the features you need to use in a pre-press environment, working with page proofs or with packaging mockups.
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Born on the Channel Island of Jersey, Simon moved to the UK to attend the University of Bath where he studied electrical and electronic engineering. Since then a varied career has included being part of the team building the world's first solid state 30KW HF radio transmitter, writing electromagnetic modelling software for railguns, and testing the first ADSL equipment in the UK. He also built one the UK's first national ISPs, before spending several years developing architectures for large online services for many major brands. For the last decade he's been a freelance writer, specialising in enterprise technologies and development. He works with his wife and writing partner Mary Branscombe from a small house in south west London, or from anywhere there's a WiFi signal and a place for a laptop.