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NuanceA few PDF tools have succeeded in carving out some space from Adobe’s omnipresent software – the Adobe Reader. Is Adobe rueing the fact that they made the PDF document format open?

We wouldn’t know, but the openness has brought popularity and made the PDF format the de facto way to exchange files across all operating systems.

Adobe has been the standard bearer and many have come in its broad wake. The battle between free software is very like a “˜Battle for A Free World’. How many features can you pack into a free software and make it a preferred download? This is where the Adobe Reader alternatives are packing it in.


Nuance PDF Reader (ver. 6.0) is the new guy in the challenger’s corner. At first glance, it seems like a very serious contender as it packs a lot of nifty features into a free PDF Reader download.

These are the same guys who were featured in the recent Dragon: Two Free Voice Recognition Software For The iPhone Dragon: Two Free Voice Recognition Software For The iPhone Dragon: Two Free Voice Recognition Software For The iPhone Read More post.

Nuance PDF Reader sits somewhere in between the lighter (and very popular) Foxit 4 Very Light Alternatives to Adobe Reader 4 Very Light Alternatives to Adobe Reader Read More and the heftier Adobe Reader Be Lazy and Work Better with Adobe Reader Be Lazy and Work Better with Adobe Reader Read More . The download is 18.1MB and the installed size takes up just 44MB of your hard disk space. That’s more than the 16MB for Foxit, but it’s far lesser than the 200MB for Adobe’s Reader.

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I can easily give up the space if the features and performance add up to that. Do they? Let’s find out”¦

The Nuances That Catch the Eye

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The free PDF Reader download loads up relatively fast and reveals a stylish interface. Right across the screen the toolbars don’t take up much screen space and can be hidden from view. The View Bar at the foot have all the page viewing aids like rotating the views, full screen and page fit controls. Nuance has a Loupe tool in the Zoom toolbar, which is like a magnifier for any part of the page. From first appearances, it looks like it will be smooth reading.

Navigating through a PDF Document

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Reading a long PDF eBook can be an exercise in frustration if you can’t glide through it. Nuance PDF Reader has a prominently marked out Navigation Panel that brings all the controls under it. Checking out all comments made or the bookmarks placed is just within a dropdown and a click. All the views open up in zippy panels.

Commenting – Just a Choice of Three

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It’s a reader… so commenting (or annotation) options are limited to Highlight, Cross-out and Underline. All marked out content appears under comments with the name and date. There is no option that allows us to insert text comments in a PDF document.

Searching – through a haystack of PDF

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The Find tool can search for a query through a number of PDF files in a folder or in a PDF Portfolio (i.e. multiple types of files assembled into a mixed PDF unit).

Nuance PDF Reader includes full fledged support for PDF Portfolios. Individual files can be opened using the default applications from within the reader.

Playing Movies and Sounds

Nuance PDF Reader can play embedded sounds and movies using the system’s default media player. Usually, a control icon within the PDF can be clicked to start the playback.

Filling PDF Forms

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Nuance can handle all sorts of form fields. The Highlight Form Fields and the Reset Form Fields menu commands make filling up forms easy. Forms can be completed, saved to the disk or emailed by starting up the mail client at the touch of a button. Forms which have a Submit button can be processed if Javascript is enabled in Nuance during installation.

The option to enable or disable Javascript is given during installation itself. Disabling Javascript can be an added security feature for those fearing exploit attacks.

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Combining with SharePoint

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Nuance supports SharePoint collaboration. You can open files located in a SharePoint server and save files back to it.

Converting to Word, Excel or Rich Text

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This is where Nuance can come handy with its online conversion service that’s made available for the free edition too. If a lot of us do switch over, it could be for this ability. Using the online OCR and converter, PDF documents can be securely uploaded and converted to Word, Excel or RTF (Rich Text).

Advanced options also let us do some language translations and specify the image quality in the converted document.

The converted document is securely sent over with an email. Trying it out with a PDF document that had tabular content yielded an accurate Word conversion.

Wishing for some features

Purely as an average user, I miss having a custom bookmark feature. Adding your own bookmarks is very useful, when you need to come back to the right place in the document. Nuance might not take up too much space with its toolbars, but it does on the Taskbar as each instance of a PDF document opens in a separate window (that amounts to more RAM usage). Tabs are definitely on my wish list.

The reader from Foxit features the ability to save PDF files as plain text. Vis-à-vis, Nuance PDF Reader wins out in this department with its conversion options. Foxit though, is lighter than Nuance.

Nuance PDF Reader (Windows only) does have a lot going for it as another entrant in the free PDF Reader market. Question is will you make the switch?

Let us know about your reading of Nuance PDF Reader’s feature set. How does it stack up against a reader you are using?

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