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With the latest javascript vulnerabilities in Adobe reader and bloat it has aquired over the years, I've been thinking of moving the network I'm in charge of to a different product for PDF reading on Windows.

The ideal PDF reader should be something that is:

  • Small in size (Adobe reader is more than 200MB these days after installation).
  • As secure by default as possible (For example, javascript disabled by default).
  • Nice looking and easy to use interface.
  • Not bloated with features (I just want to read PDFs, that's it).
  • Does not install any toolbars/unwanted add ons/spyware.
  • Does not display any ads while viewing PDFs.
  • Preferably Open Source. (this pretty much ensures no ads).
  • Full Unicode support.

Idealy , something like evince from gnome, will be the best option, but unfortunately that's not available on Windows.

Foxit is an option, as it is small, and has a nice interface. But it still has javascript enabled by default which might lead to vulnerabilities - and it installs a toolbar , and displays ads while reading PDFs which is distracting.

There is a site dedicated to Open Source PDF readers, pdfreaders.org, however, the Windows pdf readers each have their problems, mostly the interface is not as convenient (as evince, adobe or foxit).

Here's a list of all PDF software from WikiPedia. There's a "Viewers" section for each OS.

What Windows PDF reader would you recommend ?

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The latest Adobe Reader is sitting at a 210MB install on my wife's Windows 7 Netbook. Ugh. –  GregD Aug 16 '10 at 0:16
    
Just wanted to mention that it appears possible to secure a PDF so that it only opens in Adobe reader. Which sucks. I used all the PDF readers listed here to no avail. –  Holocryptic Aug 17 '10 at 21:57
    
@Holocryptic Really? So these kinds of PDF's won't open in pdf viewers like the one on the iphone, or google docs? If that's the case then I hope people won't actually use them. –  Tom Feiner Aug 30 '10 at 4:49

9 Answers 9

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Evince is working on Windows now, but there's no binaries yet, so you'll have to build it yourself.

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Evince now has an official Windows binary at the project download page: live.gnome.org/Evince/Downloads –  Tom Feiner Nov 4 '09 at 13:10
    
Just to update, the Windows binary is still available: wiki.gnome.org/Apps/Evince/Downloads –  Alan Turing Sep 7 at 18:33

I use Sumatra PDF viewer. It seems to work rather well, it loads almost instantly (compared to 20 or so seconds for adobe) and is very fast with page changes and what not. Also, no ads unlike Foxit.

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Linkage: blog.kowalczyk.info/software/sumatrapdf/index.html –  Andy Jun 8 '09 at 15:09
    
The screenshots don't do Sumatra justice. It works better than Evince on Windows in that it actually remembers the window size, zoom, and page (even if you've rebuilt the file!). It's perfect. This should be the accepted answer! –  nbolton Oct 11 '10 at 20:44

I recently deployed Foxit to replace Adobe Reader at our company. I pushed out a custom INI that turned off JavaScript and the ads (I was surprised to find that the ads were a simple configuration option, and even more surprised to find that all this was in a @&*($&^! INI in the Program Files\Foxit directory), as well as a few other custom options.

I, too, was hoping for an open source solution, but Foxit was the only thing that met our needs, and with the INI preference changes and a permissions change to let normal users read and write to the preferences INI it seems to work like a charm.

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This is a good solution for now, but foxit can easily hard code the ads at compile time, making the next version unconfigurable. So I'm still looking for a better solution. –  Tom Feiner Jun 8 '09 at 7:50
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Tom, not sure about their EULA, but that may be against it. I wouldn't suggest publishing that INI just in case. –  Logan Jun 8 '09 at 9:32
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I'm sitting in the WWDC keynote line right now so it's hard for me to check exactly where it is, but I figured out which setting in the INI to modify by simply watching changes made to the INI as I modified the preferences in the app. Turning off ads is a check box in there, so I'm fairly certain it's not against the license. –  Xuff Jun 8 '09 at 15:20

It might sound odd, but how about an old version of Adobe Reader, back when it was called Acrobat Reader? v6 can open pretty much all PDFs (except the ones with the fanciest features), it's small, and fast...

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Hm... an old version of adobe reader is probably vulnerable to recent exploits, so it's not really usable. –  Tom Feiner Jun 8 '09 at 7:35
    
not probably....is. Adobe certainly didn't have secure programming processes in place back then. They are still behind the game on secure programming on newer versions. –  3dinfluence Mar 30 '10 at 17:31

I don't think finding an alternative PDF viewer solves the problem you are trying to solve. Adobe is terrible with security, we all know that, but at least they patch things up quickly (well, mostly) so as long as you have a good system managing the updates, it's fine. All software has bugs and security holes, finding an alternative to Adobe Acrobat Reader will simply introduce another set of bugs and holes, instead of eliminating them.

I understand you might be talking about more than just security here, but really, if security is your main concern, the solution is to shorten the window of vulnerability to as short as possible.

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Adobe doesn't really have a good track record at patching quickly and are still trying to figure implement secure programming practices. They even recently decided to move to a quarterly patches but due to several remote exploits and pressure from the security professionals that decision lasted less than a month. If you must use Adobe Reader make sure you stay up to date and disable javascript are the best thing you can do. –  3dinfluence Mar 30 '10 at 17:37
    
Every program has different bugs and needs different approaches to attack. an "infected" pdf needs a pdf reader which executed the malicios code "properly". Using a pdf reader other than Adobe is the best way to defend against attackers. –  Kobor42 Jul 16 '13 at 8:30

KDE has been ported to Windows recently, so you should be able to use KPDF which is great.

http://windows.kde.org/

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MuPDF. Brought to you by artofcode LLC & Artifex Inc. -- the same people that develop Ghostscript.

  • Open Source as preferred by Tom Feiner,
  • multiplatform (Windows, Mac OS X, Unix, ...soon maybe Android, iPhone too?),
  • very lightweight (see screenshots below) --
    the highly-rated SumatraPDF from this answer uses MuPDF as its rendering foundation,
  • full Unicode support,
  • very fast,
  • secure as defined above (no JavaScript support),
  • very surely not bloated with features,
  • not displaying adds (unless you deem the copyright notice in the "About" screen as one...),
  • nicely looking and easy to use....
    hmmm, decide yourself: the interface is very simple (keyboard navigation only, no menues or icons):

MuPDF: very simple GUI -- this is all the GUI it has. MuPDF: keyboard navigation only, no menues or icons.

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Very nice! I love the lightweight no icon, keyboard only interface. And I also see it's already packaged in debian (sid). Also no javascript support is defenelty a plus. –  Tom Feiner Aug 16 '10 at 5:12
    
BTW, the screenshot on the left was made while rendering a problematic PDF using some chinese glyphs (posted at stackoverflow.com, stackoverflow.com/questions/3455120/…) which caused the latest version of Ghostscript to crash and rather not display (or otherwise process) it. –  Kurt Pfeifle Aug 16 '10 at 14:02

There is a open source project that is pretty sweet if you want to build a web based PDF viewer:

http://flexpaper.devaldi.com

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