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Adobe Reader and the Portable Document Format (PDF) were a boon to Internet communications when first introduced. Finally, there was a way of sharing documents while preserving the formatting, regardless of the word processor software you used to create it. As time went on and PDF popularity increased, for some reason the Adobe Reader Be Lazy and Work Better with Adobe Reader Be Lazy and Work Better with Adobe Reader Read More seemed to become bloatware. It went from a download size of 2 MB to as high as 32 MB, with version 9.0.  The installed size of the program is around 133 MB and it can seem to take forever to load. Have you ever clicked on a PDF link just to give yourself time to get some coffee?

Sure, the latest version of Reader has more bells and whistles, but you just want to read the flubsy PDF! Just open it like a web page and read it like a web page. Well, I went a-searching and here are some light alternatives to the hefty Adobe Reader.

FoxIt Reader

foxitDownload Size: 3.56 MB
Installed Size: 7.14 MB

The FoxIt layout is very similar to Adobe Reader and has a lot of the same functionality. You can add notes, zoom, search on text, view the document without images and more. It opens so quickly though!

Some of the more advanced functions are only available if you opt-in to FoxIt’s updates and eBay toolbar. The bills have got to get paid somehow I suppose. Overall, a fine piece of software backed by over 50 million downloads of it so far.

PDF-Xchange Viewer

pdf_xchangeDownload Size: 17.9 MB
Installed Size: 25.5 MB

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When you open PDF-Xchange Viewer, it is readily apparent that it is more than just a PDF reader. You’ll find all of the functions you would in FoxIt without having to sign up for updates or the eBay toolbar. That’s always a plus to me. Yes, the download is larger and it does take up more space when installed than FoxIt, however it also offers you the ability to customize its appearance and how it functions. You can set the threads to use for image rendering, amount of RAM to utilize, and text and image rendering quality amongst other things.

Perfect PDF Reader

perfect_pdfDownload Size: 22.4 MB
Installed Size: 14.6 MB

Yes, there seems to be a discrepancy there, doesn’t it? The download package contains some additional software that isn’t necessary for the base functions of Perfect PDF writer. That fact alone leads me to believe that the name Perfect is, yet again, a misnomer.  Why do companies insist on claiming perfection?

The interface is reminiscent of Office 2007 with it’s little orb thing in the top left corner and similarly confusing layout of menu items. You may be able to surmise that I am not a fan of Office 2007 as well.

Perfect PDF Reader has a limited tool set, making it essentially just a PDF reader. The one option I really don’t understand is the Open in Reader shortcut. Isn’t the point of this to take Adobe Reader out of the equation? Overall, I wouldn’t recommend Perfect PDF Reader.

Cool PDF Reader

cool_pdfDownload Size: 632 KB (That’s right, less than 1 MB.)
Installed Size: 632 KB (No coincidence here.)

Cool PDF Reader is a straight-forward executable to read PDF’s with. Open it up, navigate to the PDF you wish to read and boom, there it is. You can zoom in, zoom out, page forward and backward and well, that’s about all.  If the name of the game is something small and fast to simply read a PDF, this is the winner. If you download the standalone version, you can also run it without permissions or from a USB drive.

Which one is best? That’s truly dependent on what your tastes are. For me, I like PDF-Xchange because it has some neat editing controls. FoxIt obviously has something going for it, based on the sheer number of downloads. Perfect PDF will appeal to the neophyte user whose first introduction to software included Office 2007. Cool PDF is definitely for the purists.

There are many other PDF reader options out there – which one do you use? Why do you use it? Let others know about it in the comments.

  1. Dimedrol
    October 8, 2016 at 9:37 pm

    I use SumatraPDF for years.
    One problem is printing. While printing some PDFs, it begins to eat memory (i saw 400 megabytes) and if you do not kill process, then system hangs.
    For printing i use old version adobe reader 9.3

  2. OZC
    February 2, 2016 at 7:49 pm

    Foxit has become bloatware. No different than Adobe when I abandoned Adobe.

    • Guy McDowell
      February 2, 2016 at 8:53 pm

      Sad, but true.

    • Andy
      April 28, 2016 at 11:01 pm

      Agree...

      • Guy McDowell
        May 20, 2016 at 7:55 pm

        I third that motion.

  3. thodanast
    December 4, 2015 at 7:46 pm

    windows10 ms edge quickly opens pdf though without editing/copy options. In addition if user has a microsoft account he may install the light official version of adobe reader by store. No need for alternatives in windows. Android is fine using google's lighter pdf reader not to mention Linux built-in support.

    • Guy McDowell
      December 6, 2015 at 10:55 pm

      Good info! Thank you for adding that.

  4. Mark King
    October 26, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    Foxit is a lot faster than adobe's readers.

  5. Tom
    July 2, 2009 at 3:09 am

    Or just use a (pdfescape.com) web based PDF viewer. This one even lets you edit your PDF files or fill in your PDF forms

  6. Mida
    June 30, 2009 at 5:28 am

    Foxit is my favorite what is amazing about foxit its speed i really dont understand why adobe can't make their reader fast like foxit, is it really that hard?

  7. Tana
    June 20, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    I might have tested it just for the sake of it but since I do need to read the pdfs I had to do something. Needless to say, on Linux the same pdfs are pretty fast, so it must have been a Windows/Acrobat issue. But with PDF-Xchange Viewer even when 2-3 1,000+ page pdfs and a bunch of other files are open, it is still pretty fast. Thanks again! :)

  8. Tana
    June 20, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    Thanks for the cool suggestions! I have been working on a project with really fat pdfs (CISCO certification training stuff - i.e. pdfs of over 1,000 pages) and Acrobat drove me mad. I know that a computer is never fast enough but in my case it was a torture - and I do have 1GB, which is not exactly next to nothing.
    I tried Cool PDF but it couldn't handle very well the fat pdfs, especially when I tried to zoom it to 150%. However, PDF-Xchange Viewer works like a charm, even with a pdf of 1,000_ pages, filled with lots of network diagrams! Great stuff!

    • Guy McDowell
      June 20, 2009 at 2:17 pm

      Hey Tana,
      That's really good to know! I wouldn't have thought to test it with a PDF so large, since that seems exceptional. So it's great to know what works well with PDF's of that size. Again, thank you!

  9. hellboy
    June 8, 2009 at 4:14 am

    please tell me which is fast ? foxit vs pdf x-change ?

    • Joao Brito
      June 10, 2009 at 2:30 pm

      I haven't had any performance issues with any of the PDF readers I've tried, including foxit, sumatra, Adobe Reader and now PDF X-Change Viewer. Adobe Reader perhaps takes longer to load, but it's a matter of seconds. But now I can highly recommend X-Change Viewer, because it has annotation features you'll only get in Adobe Pro. Now, hellboy, if you load really large files in hell, perhaps you're the one to tell us about devilish performance.

  10. John Spiers
    June 6, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    Another for PDF-Xchange Viewer.

    it has a host of functions not in Adobe Reader, that Foxit either charge for or dont offer and there's the full install with manual or the Portable - I use both.

    But the biggest plus for me is the responsiveness of the developers with regards feature requests and support if issues are found!

  11. Kamrul Hasan Noor
    June 5, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    Foxit Reader is my favorite. Now I check another recommended software. what actually r those worked.

  12. Joao Brito
    June 5, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    Tks a lot. I was looking for a reader that allows me to make annotations, and I'm installing Xchange viewer. Foxit does, too, but it is annoying. I also use Sumatra.

  13. ahenobarbus
    June 5, 2009 at 8:44 am

    as i pretty much only use pdf for reading i have just downloaded the "cool pdf" and i've got to say it looks ideal for my purposes. unless something drastic happens it looks like i'll be uninstalling the adobe reader very soon

    • Guy McDowell
      June 5, 2009 at 9:12 am

      Glad to hear the article helped! That's my goal in life - help people. Well, and live forever. So far so good. Oh and take care of my family. But that's helping people too. I digress.

  14. Guy McDowell
    June 5, 2009 at 9:09 am

    http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/164253/disable_javascript_for_safety_adobe_advises.html

    Yet another reason to switch from Adobe Reader to an alternative. Which ones are safe from the same attacks? I don't know really.

  15. Diego
    June 5, 2009 at 12:52 am

    Forget about all this crap and go for Okular on the KDE desktop for you favorite OS!

    Me, I'm a Kubuntu user and will never ever again use windows as my primary OS (except for providing workstations for average users and gaming that is)

  16. 3li0
    June 4, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    Another +1 on Sumatra (would have liked to have seen it on this list), I have been using it for years now and have never gone back to anything else.

  17. Tyler - Building Camelot
    June 4, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    I love love love PDF Xchange viewer. Tons of functionality but has a slight learning curve. Maybe not the best reader but you can do so much more with it. My wife's work is actually switching from Adobe to Xchange view as their main PDF tool. She works for a large, international HR firm. Pretty cool!

  18. Andy
    June 4, 2009 at 11:41 am

    Awesome!!!! I use Foxit and Loveit!!!!! Adobe Reader is just way too bulky and slow. Now if only someone could create an alternative to Adobe Flash Player............

  19. Jimmy MRR2
    June 4, 2009 at 9:28 am

    Lucky I found foxit reader. If not, I might be stuck with Adobe reader that is too heavy for me.

    Great review.

  20. microbia
    June 4, 2009 at 9:25 am

    I've been using Foxit reader for years, however it crashes with the new IE8, so I'm back with Acrobat, will try using some of the other suggested apps... thanks!

    • Guy McDowell
      June 4, 2009 at 10:42 am

      Personally, I'd dump IE8 rather than go back to Adobe Reader.

  21. AP
    June 4, 2009 at 9:05 am

    Sumatra ++

    The only beef I have with it is the printing functionality doesn't work well with large documents, especially when only printing sections of said doc. Otherwise, it's fast, small, and has no extra BS, what more could you want?

  22. Galbrezu
    June 4, 2009 at 8:53 am

    FoxIt's been going down hill recently, trying to install toolbars and the like, I miss when it was like Cool PDF, just a simple exe file to download to read PDF files.

    Hmm, time to go try cool pdf now :D.

  23. Prashant
    June 4, 2009 at 8:48 am

    I love PDF-Xchange viewer. I have tried Foxit, but found it not as good as the X-change viewer,

  24. Guitar Teacher
    June 4, 2009 at 8:46 am

    Great article, thanks! I didn't know of any of these. On my Mac, Preview does the job perfectly for me, but on the PC - different story! I'll try some of these out.

    • Guy McDowell
      June 4, 2009 at 10:29 am

      You're welcome! I hope one of them does the trick for you. Mostly, the article was to let you know there are plenty of great alternatives.

  25. sefcug
    June 4, 2009 at 8:29 am

    Have been using Foxit for years now and love it.

    Portable Sumatra is OK, but I only use it as part of the PortableApps Suite, occasionally from my thumb drive, if Foxit is not available.

  26. AC
    June 4, 2009 at 8:26 am

    Installed sumatraPDF, and will never go back to bloatware like FoxIt

  27. L
    June 4, 2009 at 7:37 am

    Ghostscript (and the GSView reader) is pretty lightweight.

  28. normaboobie
    June 4, 2009 at 7:30 am

    You really need to get Sumatra PDF viewer up there.

  29. elleP
    June 4, 2009 at 7:12 am

    I still wait for Evince, the default reader in ubuntu, to be ported to windows. So far that is the only reader I like.

    I tried SumatraPDF a year or so ago, but for some reason I can't remember I was not impressed.

    Looking at any of the readers suggested here really hurts my eyes with all the pointless buttons and banners. Even Adobe Reader is a pleasure compared to this lot.

  30. Mike
    June 4, 2009 at 7:03 am

    My choice on the MAC is SKIM.

    Skim.app - 9.9 MB
    Adobe Reader 9 - 160MB

  31. Logan
    June 4, 2009 at 6:59 am

    Preview in Mac OS X Works great for PDF's!

    • btinc
      June 4, 2009 at 10:49 am

      Better than Preview is QuickLook. Instant PDF viewing by selecting the PDF file in the Finder and hitting the space bar.

    • Stephen
      June 6, 2009 at 12:49 am

      Preview is great and allows clipping and making of new pdf's that are excellently sharp. But Reader 9 on my Mac is only 184 megs and opens much faster than earlier versions of Reader, almost as quickly as Preview.

  32. joe
    June 4, 2009 at 5:44 am

    another vote for sumatra - smaller than all of the above, portable (no installer), does everything i need it to.

  33. mudCat
    June 4, 2009 at 7:52 am

    When I'm on Windows, it is either the full Adobe package or SumatraPDF. I'm sorry that you excluded it from your overview. For anyone curious, find it here:

    blog.kowalczyk.info/software/sumatrapdf/index.html

    (It would be nice to have Evince on Windows, though...)

    • Guy McDowell
      June 4, 2009 at 10:27 am

      Not excluded - accidentally overlooked. It's good software.

  34. Tucker
    June 4, 2009 at 7:13 am

    adobe reader lite.

    majorgeeks.com/Adobe_Reader_Lite_d5915.html

    • Guy McDowell
      June 4, 2009 at 10:26 am

      Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought Adobe Reader Lite was a hacked-up version of Adobe (not done by Adobe) , which goes against the license. That's the only reason I didn't list it.

  35. Diabolic Preacher
    June 4, 2009 at 12:57 am

    17mb and 22mb compared to 32 mb isn't lightweight. They are relatively lighter, like OpenOffice installation is lightweight at ~250-300mb compared to MS Office at >500mb.

    Thanks for CoolPDF suggestion. have to check it out. hope its not bare metal like xpdf.

    Where is Sumatra...Crushed under the weight of Perfect PDF Reader and PDF X-Change? :P

    • Guy McDowell
      June 4, 2009 at 10:24 am

      If I had my choice of fighting someone who was 17 stone, 22 stone or 32 stone, I think the 17 stone guy would be lightweight.

      I really don't know how I missed SumatraPDF. It is VERY good.

    • Diabolic Preacher
      June 4, 2009 at 9:20 pm

      hehe :)

      thanks to all commenter suggestions i think its time to step out of that "foxit is perfect" false notion, coz sumatra itself truly is so usable, and now i gotta try coolpdf. no one's talked about okular, though.

  36. David
    June 3, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    Another sumatraPDF user here. Quick/fast efficient. I used to use FoxitReader but it comes too bloated with other software now- asking for addons to download etc.

    Furthermore, sumatraPDF = open source.

  37. jeandseen than
    June 3, 2009 at 8:42 pm

    i still use old one adobe

  38. Dominic
    June 3, 2009 at 8:35 pm

    I definitely use and recommend FoxIt for Windows users.

  39. catester
    June 3, 2009 at 5:59 pm

    I use PDF X-Change Viewer because I can "print" a map to PDF and then put in the client's phone number/buzzer code/special instructions. And it's easy.

    I also like that hey have a

  40. homo_googleticus
    June 3, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    You should mention portable version of PDF X-Change Viewer. Download size: 5.5MB. Installed size: 9.5MB after deleting redundant language files.

  41. John
    June 3, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    Yeah, I'm a SumatraPDF kind of guy, myself. It's not ideal--it's often slow in rendering a page and it has trouble with certain files--but it's great for a quick check and only takes up about a megabyte.

    If Cool works better/faster, though, it may well unseat it on my machines.

  42. Versatile
    June 3, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    How about Sumatra PDF Reader?

    • Ben Harper (just kiddin') XD
      December 29, 2009 at 12:47 am

      Yeah, Sumatra is totally missing here, and Sumatra is _THE SH1T_ ;-)
      # Less than 2 megs installed/extracted (extracted because it's portable)
      # GPLv3 (also, no stupid banner ads or useless toolbars, hell, not even a donation button)
      # Feats: basic nav's, text search, fullscreen reading (but with scrollbar), go to page XYZ, remember (or do *not* remember) latest doc's...
      # Only thing i'm missing is a really cool PDF file icon, but there are some on wikimedia.

      HP: http://blog.kowalczyk.info/software/sumatrapdf/index.html

      • makbruno
        January 4, 2010 at 7:00 am

        Ditto

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