Internet Productivity

How To Use Gmail & Google Docs Instead of Adobe Reader

Mark O'Neill 13-12-2008

view pdf in gmailI love Adobe PDF files. I love the format, the features and their ease of use. But I have never really bonded with Adobe Reader or FoxIt and to be honest, I am not a big fan of overloading my computer with too many bloated software programs in the first place. If I can find an online equivalent to do the job then I am a happy camper.


So with the news that Gmail now supports the reading of PDF files, I realised I could now do away with Adobe Reader being on my computer altogether. Hurray! Goodbye Reader and thanks for all the bloat!

Being sent a PDF file by email? View PDF in Gmail.

If someone now sends me a PDF file by email, all I have to do is click the “view” button in Gmail. This then sends the file to my Google Docs account for viewing (you may have to log into Google Docs first)

gmail pdf view

After logging into Google Docs, their lightweight PDF viewer immediately opens your file. As you can see below, the viewer gives you the ability to download the file and print the file.

How To Use Gmail & Google Docs Instead of Adobe Reader gmailpdfview2


Plus, just like Adobe Reader, you have the strip down the side which allows you to see thumbnails of all the pages so you can jump straight to a particular page.

How To Use Gmail & Google Docs Instead of Adobe Reader gmailpdfview3

Once you’ve finished looking at your file, just close Google Docs. Easy. No need to use Adobe Reader or FoxIt or any other installed software.

2. PDF file on your computer? Open it in Google Docs.

But what if the PDF file is not in your email? What if the PDF file is on your computer? Well then you can either upload it to Google Docs or to Gmail for reading in Google Docs.


To upload to Gmail, you can use a favourite tool of mine called Backup to email Back Up Files To Email With Just One Click Read More (or gmail) which integrates into your Explorer right-click menu. Then when you have uploaded the PDF file to Gmail, repeat stage one to view your file in Google Docs. You can also use Gmail as a nice little storage facility for your PDF files long term.

To upload your file from your computer to Google Docs (cutting out Gmail), Docs provides a variety of ways to get your file there. The easiest route is to go to Google Docs and use their file uploading tool.  The only snag with uploading it to the Google Docs server is that there is a 10MB file size limit.

open pdf in google docs

If you do a bit of online searching, you can also find things such as a desktop tool to quickly upload documents.


Then again, once your PDF file is in Docs, just use their lightweight viewer to open it.    When you have finished and you don’t want to keep the file online, just delete it.   You will still have the original file on your computer.

How To Use Gmail & Google Docs Instead of Adobe Reader jossstone2

What is absolutely amazing is the crystal clear picture quality and the very fast loading speeds that Google Docs provides. It really does put Adobe Reader to shame.

Related topics: Adobe Reader, Email Tips, Gmail, Google Docs, PDF.

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  1. Jaimini Ram
    September 16, 2009 at 10:47 pm

    google docs does not support PDF digital signatures - it just flattens it into an image!

  2. MichaelLarsen
    December 22, 2008 at 12:28 am

    The only issue I have with Google docs is you can only upload a I think it is 10MB and that is great for most pdfs, but on occasion I have the need to up load a 30MB file to review.

  3. qawd
    December 15, 2008 at 2:20 am

    LOL !! You are dull !!!

  4. Jay Godse
    December 14, 2008 at 11:54 pm

    This is a great benefit for Google Apps. It means that one does not have to have Acrobat Reader running to properly render a PDF document. It means that all PDFs can be handled within the web browser. I'm going to bet that Google's PDF renderer takes up much less memory than other PDF readers, and that is a boon to those of us with old and/or weak computers.

  5. Miguel Wickert
    December 14, 2008 at 3:50 am

    Yes! Thanks for sharing, I should get rid of it as well. :)

  6. venkat
    December 14, 2008 at 12:28 am

    Gmail makes it easy to view PDF files online ,I think Google's Gmail is not just simply an email ,not other email service provides these features to their users,that's why lot are choosing Gmail.

  7. Michael Jahn
    December 13, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    I do not know what sort of monitor or screen you are using - perhaps your computer is not set up to view 24 bits - that is, 8 bits per channel - that is, 256 levels of from white to black on Red, Green and Blue - look carefully at these images - they are only using 8 bits for all three - you can see that this is an index color table rendering. This is like 1984 color.

    Besides building a better preview rendering engine, they are ignoring several PDF operations and rendering the file incorrectly - like Apples preview tool, they simply need to do a better job - and they will, of course, this is version 1.

    No need to please me though - it works fine as it is, and it is great that I can simply walk up onto ANY computer, log into gmail and get my mail and view attachments - even if the PDF files are 'sketches' of the actual file, they let me view them and view them pretty fast.

    Michael Jahn
    Jahn & Associates
    PDF Color Conversion Specialist
    1824 North Garvin Avenue
    Simi Valley
    California 93065
    Office: (805) 527 8130
    Cell: (805) 217 6741
    Skype: michaelejahn

  8. Michael Jahn
    December 13, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    The Google technology that is used to convert a PDF file into a preview is crap. It delivers an ugly index color image (like a horrible GIF file) and then ignores modern features such as transparency effects. Nice tool for probably 98% of the world though, just no good for designers and publishers

    • Mark O'Neill
      December 13, 2008 at 3:52 pm

      You call the above screenshots "ugly index color images"? If so, there's no pleasing you! I think that's really good picture quality!

  9. Dan
    December 13, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    I wonder how would Adobe react to this...

    • Mark O'Neill
      December 13, 2008 at 3:53 pm

      To Google muscling in on their territory? Probably not happy but then again, maybe the competition will make them lower their prices and improve their product?

  10. Travis Quinnelly
    December 13, 2008 at 2:03 pm

    There's something to be said for having Adobe Reader (full-version) for certain needs, like producing a huge, high-quality pdf file...but I agree with you whole-heartedly. I use this little trick every day for the ease of viewing PDFs online.

    • Mark O'Neill
      December 13, 2008 at 2:43 pm

      I think you're thinking about Adobe Acrobat for producing the PDF files. Acrobat is good but extremely expensive. Reader on the other hand is just a pile of bloat and not needed (in my opinion).