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Best Free Software 15: Alternatives to Adobe Reader for viewing and creating PDF documents

Created with Foxit Reader
Created with Foxit Reader

Having a PDF (Portable Document Format) document viewer on a PC is a must for any one dealing with documents. Even for someone who only occasionally encounters them, soon or later you will probably need to view or create one. Some PCs come with some version of Adobe reader (like Adobe Reader X 10.1.2) for opening them or you find them recommended on pages that may have some PDF document for download.

It is not only my experience, though that Adobe Reader is not only a huge file compared to other free readers, but can and often takes a while to load, something which can be felt on especially old PC systems. Many people around the world still do not use (very) fast PCs.

Free PDF Viewers

There is an increasing number of free, lightweight and fast PDF viewers, but I will mention some that are also “portable”, i.e. which can also be installed on a USB flash drive. With this option, you can carry your PDF Viewer around and be in position to open documents on PCs without any. I will also talk about another, that is free but not portable.

Foxit PDF Reader

Foxit Reader is a small (about 36MB) and loads very fast. The portable version does not even have to be installed, but can be run from a USB stick drive so you can open PDF documents, zoom and rotate them. They can be used to fill in PDF forms. One can also open different documents in “tabs”, instead of in new, separate windows in Adobe. You can create PDF docs of different files, although it seems this works only with the installable & not portable version, since the former also installs itself as a printer, which seems to be required for creation. Foxitsoftware has been my PDF viewer of choice since I discovered it a few years ago.

This is what Foxitsoftware describes it:

  • Fast – read PDF files without waiting.
  • Lightweight – PDF reader that is easily deployable and doesn’t exhaust system resources.
  • Secure – so you don’t get infected with viruses and can keep sensitive information safe within your PDF documents.
  • A Platform – so you can extend the Foxit Reader by creating your own value added capabilities for internal use or for resale.
  • More features & other infos => here

The above image was created from a Microsoft word doc using Foxit Reader, which is also a PDF viewer.

Platforms

Foxit Reader runs on Windows XP (SP2/SP3) and newer (i.e. Vista, Win 7, Win 8). There is also a Linux version.

Download Foxit Reader

You can learn more and download it from Foxitsoftware download page. There is no need to allow the installation of the offered browser toolbar. A portable version can also be downloaded from http://portableapps.com/apps/office/foxit_reader_portable.

Download Sumatra PDF

You can get both the installable portable versions here. The portable version can also be downloaded from portableapps.com, where it easily integrates into an already installed “PortableApps.com Suite”.

Nitro reader

Nitro Reader
Nitro Reader

Nitro reader is a non-portable that apparently can be used not only to view but to create PDF documents from most PC applications (over 300 formats). You can in addition comment and review, save PDF forms, you can extract text and images from a pdf document, type text directly onto the page and do much more.

Nitro Reader: Convert Word Doc to Pdf
Nitro Reader: Convert Word Doc to Pdf

The publisher (Nitro PDF Reader):

Many users of free PDF readers expect compromise.

It might be limited functionality — or none at all. Maybe “free” equates to in-product advertising, forced registration, and constant attempts to upsell you a paid product. Perhaps it’s an oversize download, with security concerns and updates so frequent you wonder why you’re doing so much, for so little in return.

Not anymore. With Nitro Reader you can start doing more, without the compromise you’ve come to expect.

Platforms

It can be used for Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7, 8.

Download

You can download the Nitro PDF Reader from here. Downloading seems to require an email address.

Alternatives

There are lots of other “free PDF viewers” in addition to the above as a simple Google search will show …

Create & edit PDF files

If you want to create and also edit PDF files and would like to use Adobe, you would have to get Adobe Acrobat X Professional. I currently see a copy on Amazon reduced from $449 to $369 …

PDF24 PDF Creator

PDF24 PDF Creator
PDF24 PDF Creator

There are however some free PDF creators, which might not have all the features Adobe Acrobat X Professional has, but do what most folks need. A very good one is Pdf24 creator, which enables creation of PDF documents from just about any other application. The PDF creator practically acts as a PDF printer. To convert a Word or other document, you would need to look, of course after installing PDF24 for the print button in Microsoft Word or if it is an image, in the image viewer or editor and click it. If you already have another printer installed, it has probably been set to be the standard/default printer. In this case, you would need to select “PDF24 creator” as the standard printer in the printer dialog for that document. After clicking “OK”, it would create a PDF file of that respective document. It would probably ask where to save it.

Do not forget to reset the standard printer, unless you have none or will mostly use the PDF24 creator “printer”. It is just a matter of which one is selected that “prints”.

PDF24 PDF Creator: setting as the standard printer
PDF24 PDF Creator: setting as the standard printer

Here are some of the features mentioned by the publisher:

  • Merge and split PDF
  • Extract pages from a PDF
  • Copy pages from one PDF to another PDF
  • Integrated preview for easy PDF editing
  • Secure a PDF (Prevent from unauthorized opening, printing, etc.)
  • Set PDF information such as author and title

 .

Platforms

Pdf24 creator runs on Win XP, Vista, Win 7,  8.

Download

You can learn more and download PDF24 Creator from pdf24.org

doPDF Free PDF converter

This is another free PDF creator, which is in fact used by some Universities. It works like PDF24 creator and after installation, it is set up as one of the printers. To convert it, in the document to be converted select “print” and then in the opening dialog the “dopdf” printer.

This is what the publisher says about:

Freeware. Lightweight. No nags.

doPDF is a free PDF converter for both personal and commercial use. Using doPDF you can create PDF files by selecting the “Print” command from virtually any application. With one click you can convert your Microsoft Excel, Word or PowerPoint documents or your emails and favorite web sites to PDF files.

Furthermore

400+ document types supported – the principle is this, if a document type is printable, then doPDF can create a PDF file out of it.

Platforms

The download file, which is just 4MB can be got from http://www.dopdf.com/download.php

Most pdf creators and editors are NOT free, but there are few out there, like PDFill PDF Tools [PDFill PDF Editor with FREE PDF Writer and FREE PDF Tools] from http://www.pdfill.com.

Please remember PDF creators like PDF24 Creator and doPDF are merely creators and in order to open the created pdf file, you need a PDF Viewer, like those mentioned above. There are some exceptions, though like Nitro reader, which not only has a print driver for creating PDF files, but can also “read” or view them.

OpenOffice and LibreOffice powerful open source office suites [Microsoft Office alternatives], also mentioned on this site come with a built-in PDF creation feature.

More about PDF readers and creators from Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_PDF_software.