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By: Kelly Neske
When you're the standard, it's normal to become comfortable, the popularity of your product trumping the need to introduce changes that are more than negligible. However, recognition is often the result of the familiarity of your product taking precedence over its reliability. In each industry, consumers exhibit their tendency to stay with the standard out of habit, ignoring glaring flaws that become acceptable in the face of the unknown.

One such example is Acrobat Reader by Adobe, the de facto application used to read .PDF files. PDF ( Portable Document Format ) is the file format made by Adobe Systems for the exchange of documents. Independent of the usual variables that are attendant to the compatibility of a file format ( software, hardware, and operating system ), PDF files are self-contained documents of a two-dimensional nature. Until just recently, Acrobat Reader - also created by Adobe Systems - was the the only application that one could use to view a PDF file. Just over a year ago, Adobe released the format as an open format, giving the opportunity to read the file with alternative solutions.

Acrobat Reader, like all favored applications that suffer from the already mentioned complacency, saw its evolution stunted by a lack of attention given to performance. Though basically used for just viewing files, its bloat is obvious, the application consuming roughly 30MB of space. While Acrobat Reader has features that still have not been adopted by competing software, there are a number of alternatives that offer its core functionality without the surplus baggage.

One choice is Evince. Evince is outstanding for its simplicity, its name accompanied by a tagline that reads, "Simply a document viewer." Thats exactly what Evince is, its modest interface underscored by the speed that you'd naturally associate with what is nothing more than a document viewer. A neat addition to Evince is its "Presentation Mode," which handles a PDF as if it is a slideshow. In this mode, each page is treated as a slide. Originally written for use with Linux, there's a Windows version that offers the same features.

Another great alternative is SumatraPDF. For people that simply want to view and print PDF files, SumatraPDF does so without any of the lag one notices when using Acrobat Reader. While plain in appearance, not unlike Evince, its functionality is simple to glean from the simply navigable interface. With few buttons, you can take advantage of this particular tool for the functions that are most utilized by those viewing a PDF : open, page-jump, search. Though its functionality is limited to just the core tasks we associate with Acrobat Reader, it moves at an impressive speed, with a minimalistic design that spares you the needless trimmings.

Lastly, there's Foxit Reader, an alternative that offers equivalent features without the excesses of Acrobat Reader. Free and available for Windows, Foxit Reader is regarded by many to be the most gratifying choice for those who've sought a usable substitute for Acrobat Reader. One reason for its popularity is the impressive feature set : e-mail the PDF while viewing it, highlight part of the screen and save it as an image, and convert the PDF to text. Those features come with the free version, without any mention of what's included should you purchase the Foxit Reader Pro Pack. The chief feature of the Pro Pack is the power to edit your PDF files.

In the case of Acrobat Reader, this is but one out of many examples where you'll find that the most popular software isn't always the most practical answer. Acrobat Reader is definitely no slouch, coming from the company that created the PDF standard, but there's no way to deny that it can stand to shed lots of the weight that slows the current version down. Till that is done, the alternatives mentioned above should be more than sufficient to satisfy your needs where viewing PDF files are concerned.

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