PDF Reading

I messed around a lot with PDFs during this project, but then decided to avoid using them during processing.  However, I thought I should write a post about PDFs since we all use them everyday.

Many people don’t realize there are alternatives to Adobe Reader.  Issues with Adobe data breaches or privacy invasions of the new Adobe Digital Editions 4.0 might make you consider switching to something else… PDFreaders.org provides a list of Free Software PDF readers so you can replace the slightly creepy, proprietary Adobe with something that respects your freedom.

In the past I used Foxit Reader (freeware).  I really liked the interface and features, but Foxit is also proprietary and has some issues with privacy and unwanted software bundled in installs and updates.  I was bothered by an update that suddenly opted me into their cloud service with no explanation.  They have recently contributed to the open source community, as code for the Foxit rendering engine is the basis for Google’s PDFium project. None-the-less, I quit Foxit…

On Windows, I now use Sumatra PDF as my everyday reader (which is not listed at PDFreaders.org, but is open source).  You can download the application from the main site: http://blog.kowalczyk.info/software/sumatrapdf/free-pdf-reader.html, or look at the code (GPLv3) here: https://code.google.com/p/sumatrapdf.

Reading Aladore on Sumatra.

Reading Aladore on Sumatra.

Sumatra is very simple and striped down.  Unlike Adobe Reader, it starts up very quickly and doesn’t run any background helpers, definitely no bloat.  It is also more flexible: it can read PDF, ePub, Mobi, XPS, DjVu, CHM, CBZ, and CBR files, so it is a great all around reader.  On rare occasions the PDF rendering is slower than Adobe or Foxit, usually when the page images are highly compressed in the PDF container.  Sumatra provides a message saying “page is rendering”, which is an improvement over Adobe where you can scroll through a complex document and find mysteriously empty pages that may later appear.  Similarly, Sumatra never mysteriously freezes while sorting complex rendering out–it just honestly tells you it is working on it!  I appreciate full user feedback!

On Linux, almost everyone already has some open source reader.  I use Evince as a basic all-around reader, https://wiki.gnome.org/Apps/Evince.  If you like it, Evince is easy to install on Windows as well, but it honestly runs better on Linux.

Here are some other handy utilities I found useful for manipulating PDFs while working on Digital Aladore:

  • Did you know you can open any PDF with LibreOffice Draw?  This enables you to annotate and edit the PDF and save it in different formats.  VERY HANDY!
  • PDF Shaper (freeware from GloryLogic) is an easy to use set of PDF manipulating tools.  It offers features such as splitting, combining, extracting images, and conversions.  Slick and smooth interface.
  • K2PDF is an open source tool focused on reformatting PDFs for ereaders or mobile devices.  Very useful for converting multi-column texts into simpler PDFs.
  • jPDF Tweak is a GNU open source project that is the self proclaimed “Swiss Army Knife for PDF files.”  The learning curve is steep, but it can do an amazing amount of Tweaks!

What applications do you use for PDF Reading, editing, and creation?

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