Bits from Bill

Technology thoughts leaking from the brain of "Bill Pytlovany"

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Where Can I Find an Alternate PDF Viewer?

Apparently Adobe isn’t making enough profits by selling Photoshop for $699. The basic Acrobat program needed to create PDF files is sold for $99 but that’s not enough either. The program to view and print PDF files appears to be free but if you’re not careful it comes with some unwanted baggage.


Adobe makes extra money every time someone downloads and installs the Google Toolbar. I usually know better but even I didn’t see the check box in my haste to download most recent Acrobat reader.  Given the number of vulnerabilities that keep occurring with the Acrobat reader I always recommend folks check to to be sure they have newest version. 

I’ve never been a fan of companies which keep trying to add programs to  my autorun list. Adobe Download Manager installs a number of components that run in the background and regularly connect to see if I need my software updated. These includes the Adobe Speed Launcher ( read_sl.exe ), Adobe Reader and Acrobat Manager ( adobearm.exe ), AcroIEHelper Library ( AcroIEHelper.dll ) and Adobe PDF Helper ( Acroiehelpershim.dll ) and Adobe Services like GetPlus_Helper.DLL

Given all the vulnerabilities and extra software, I decided I’ve had enough with Adobe. The PDF format has gotten so popular I would still need a program to view and print PDF’s.


Classic Bad Behavior
When discussing this issue on Twitter quite a few people recommended I switch to a PDF reader called FoxIt.  This program looked promising especially after I read “NO BLOAT”.  They lied.


The download process was clean and simple as long as I remembered to uncheck the options to make my new search provider and home page.


Why would they think I want to change my home page or default search? I thought it was bad enough these options were pre-checked but I never even had a choice if I wanted the Toolbar.  It was installed automatically. Sorry, but I consider this bloatware. What I wanted was a PDF viewer that’s all.


Luckily, I was greeted with a friendly warning from my favorite Windows Watchdog which immediately removed the unwanted toolbar.


That wasn’t the end of the story. FoxIt is a classic example of the bad habit of software including crap you never wanted. Before the install was complete I was encouraged to install an eBay shortcut on my Desktop!


After some more recommendations from Twitter friends, I’m currently using a program called Sumatra which is free and open source. You can download Sumatra at  The only negative thing I can say so far is I don’t really like the color yellow they use.




Do I sound bitter?
What really makes me sad is this trend has become so widespread that everyone expects and accepts it.  Folks silently continue to download bloated software until their machine eventually becomes unmanageable and/or full of bugs. I’ve also been approached by and I always reject their offer.  If I had accepted their offer to include a toolbar with the free WinPatrol I could have retired this year. Apparently, most people really don’t care.

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Blogger Corrine said...

I'm glad you took my suggestion to try Sumatra PDF. I got tired of Adobe Reader last year and uninstalled it, replacing it with Sumatra PDF. I hope you also saw the keyboard shortcuts. My favorite is + Left Mouse to select text and copy to clipboard.

The manual is located at

For the ease of use of Sumatra PDF, I'll deal with the yellow. :)

4:01 PM  
Blogger View from the Solent said...

it's always worth looking here for useful goodies. It's the best site I know of for good reviews of free tools. The PDF subset is


6:25 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I rarely allow comments which include links but I do recommend the content of the previous posts.


7:16 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Bill, while Foxit does carry with it some other's a good program and they do give you the option to not install the other items. People should learn to read the screens when they're installing software.
We've had very good luck with Foxit

7:46 PM  
Blogger Pumphouse said...

I am using PDF-XChange Viewer. It seems lean. It is the only freeware PDF viewer I could find that allows you to fill in PDF forms and save your entries for later use. Very handy for health insurance claim forms.

9:30 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Ditto Pumphouse. I've been using PDF-Xchange Viewer for a little over a year and find it to be better and leaner than Adobe.

12:46 AM  
Blogger Shlomo Skinner said...

I dropped Adobe Reader several years ago. I tried Sumatra but was not happy with how it printed files. So I've been using Foxit, but I'm very careful when I install any upgrade!

1:24 AM  
Anonymous mikeb said...

Like Pumphouse, I'm using PDF-XChange viewer. I don't remember it trying to install anything other than the viewer (but it's been a while since I installed it). I originally installed it because I was concerned about Adobe Viewer being an attack vector, and I wasn't thrilled with the continual nagging (or need) to upgrade Adobe Viewer.

The interface for PDF-Xchange Viewer is a bit busy (lots of buttons), but I really, really like the tabbed interface so all the documents show up in a single application window.

It's free, it works and it's not annoying. What more could one ask for?

2:51 AM  
Blogger Gordon Bennet said...

Thanks, Bill. My most recent Foxit install tried to install Ask Toolbar even though I unchecked the box. Just installed PDFxChange, and only WinPatrol saved me from the Ask Toolbar as well. I no longer use Ask for any searches, because I want the swine to fold!

3:07 AM  
Blogger Nozavi said...

Ii'm also using PDF-XChange Viewer... Small, portable, no U3 required, but @mikeb: you should notice the Ask! searchbar included in its interface (at least my version has one...)
If you don't mind that, PDF-XChange Viewer is indeed a good alternative ( better than Sumatra imho )

10:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The .msi installer for Foxit Reader does not contain a toolbar.

11:55 AM  
Anonymous Steve said...

I once performed some metrics on FoxIt, PDF-XChange, and Sumatra. I found PDF-XChange superior at opening/handling large PDFs (90MB) and consumed near the least amount of memory with those documents open. Sumatra was easiest to use but had problems printing PDFs. Foxit was average among them.

I used Foxit a few times, then turned to PDF-Xchange and am happy. I've gotten used to it and I find it quite useful and a great/better alternative to Adobe.

I should note that I've only used the portable versions of all three PDF readers, and they can all be found at

1:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The worst thing about Foxit is the asktool bar is sneaky. You are suppose to be able to remove it through Firefox but if you check registry it is still there. I too am looking for a easy to use PDF reader.

2:40 AM  
Anonymous Walter said...

My vote also goes to PDF-XChange viewer which I have found to be the best for both general PDF viewing and for reading PDF ebooks.

The Ask searchbar refered to above by Nozavi is actually the 'Find' toolbar which is part of PDF-XChange Viewer and which is primarily for doing searches within the PDF file. The Find toolbar also has a single button on it which can be used to open the default web browser to do a search using any of several major search engines selectable from a drop-down menu. This toolbar does not attempt to change the browser's default home page or search engine so it is quite different to the Foxit toolbar. The Find toolbar, like most other toolbars in this viewer can be hidden via the View > Toolbars menu if desired.

6:59 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

I've been using Sumatra for a few months now & am mostly happy with it. As others noted, it doesn't allow you to put data into PDFs that have fill-in forms. I'm going to check into PDF X-Change Viewer that others have mentioned. Thanks for the tip!

10:43 AM  
Blogger Big Geek Daddy said...

The way I see it there are two issues here. Options to install other programs when installing the PDF Reader and what that reader installs in your Startups Program List.

I use Foxit because it's simple enough to uncheck the boxes when installing if you take your time and it doesn't add anything to the Startup List.

Installing a program on your computer is one the the biggest risks you can take as far as computer security. Why would you rush the process?

For Free Software it's worth a few seconds of my time to uncheck a box, even if it is annoying.

10:06 AM  
Anonymous Frank Woodman Jr said...

I have noticed that Foxit reader has the last two time's I've installed it copied the Ask ToolBar files to my computer even though I checked that it not be installed.For that reason I would suggest that anyone installing Foxit reader check to see if the Ask Toolbar software isn't on their machine. As even though it's not technically installed it's possible still copied there. I find this a really deplorable thing to do. So I'm still looking for a good replacement for Adobe Reader. Adobe Reader has become a major resources hog and isn't something I recommend anyone use anymore. Soon I expect that Adobe will be relegated to the losers category. So I'll certainly be checking out both Sumatra and PDF Xchange viewer. Thanks as always for a great site and being honest enough to not take the money offered by the malware companies.
As always a loyal Win patrol user Frank Woodman Jr

12:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Foxit Reader 3.3 fixes some bugs from previous versions including an issue where Ask Toolbar may be installed by default.

4:05 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The last comment is a bold face lie. I just tested version 3.3 and Foxit still installed the Ask Toolbar without asking.


4:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I switched from Adobe to Scansoft/Nuance and then to PDF-XChange viewer after using the PDF-XChange printer bundled with some CAD software available at work. The PDFs created using the PDF-XChange drivers tend to be smaller files with the same or better quality. The viewer is free, but if you need PDF creation/editing capabilities the price is far more reasonable than either Adobe or Nuance. I purchased both the Viewer Pro (allows full editing/modifications) for use on my flash drive and the XChange Pro (adds the printer drivers in addition to the Viewer Pro) for my home computer and have been extremely satisfied.

6:58 PM  
Anonymous David W said...

This is why I don't read Bill's blogs. He's an idiot who keeps accepting the license, and then can't figure out why its being installed. Next time, try not accepting it and you'll be amazed at how well it installs without any bloat. I've been using FoxIt for a couple years, upraged to every version, and never had any bloat installed with it.

Of course this post won't likely be available for the public to see, but at least now you'll see what a fool you've been with this topic. :-)

3:34 AM  
Blogger J Bonington Jagworth said...

To be fair to Foxit, they didn't lie about the bloat. Their program is just over 3MB and Adobe Reader 9 is eight times as big! They have more of an excuse too, as they probably need the money a lot more than Adobe. I don't care for extra toolbars, either, but I think it's a reasonable option for a free product.

3:56 AM  
Blogger DeciSpark said...

I switched over to Sumatra after experiencing problems with Abode's reader and Foxit's reader. While Sumatra is a great and lightweight program, the only downsides to Sumatra is it takes a long time to print large PDF files on a computer with low RAM, and that selecting text to copy is a little harder and unusual compared to that of other readers (It basically acts like a select tool in Photoshop, etc.).

7:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dont accept the conditions for the Ask toolbar and it wont install...

8:07 AM  
Blogger Johnny said...

I've been using Foxit for a long time now, well over a year, and I don't recall any tool bars being installed. I just looked through all my browsers and there are no 3rd party tool bars installed at all. I guess the Ask tool bar is something recent?

The "No bloat" line might be from the fact that Foxit has always been a very light program, it loads very quickly, even when viewing PDF files online, as opposed to Adobe which takes forever to load.

9:45 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I don't understand the folks who seem to feel I can just not accept the Toolbar when there is no check box or option not to have it installed.
Are you guys just fans of Foxit or do you work for one of the companies involved?

I guess I'm not alone according to this other post.

12:39 PM  
Blogger NKYadav said...

Corrine has a very good reason for mentioning Sumatra - and that Foxit and Adobe are not the only ones that are guilty of this behavior.

Over at Calendar of Updates, as I mentioned in my tweet, there is an ongoing topic devoted to Installer's that bring along stowaways, if you will pardon the reference: see

And as for FoxIt and Ask, yeah, it seems that around March or so they not only added it to an installer or two, but reports even flowed in that it may be installing with the update cycle of the software - see

I hope this list and the subsequent thread will make people realize that those seemingly innocuous stowaways can, in fact, be rather detrimental to your online safety.

12:52 PM  
Anonymous JDPower said...

Solution is far simpler - just use the portable version of Foxit. Some people just seem to enjoy finding problems.

3:09 PM  
Anonymous joe53 said...

I have used the stripped down Foxit pdf reader for over a year, without ever seeing the Ask/Foxit toolbar installed, or even attempting to install. (Presumably WinPatrol PLUS would have blocked it, as it did when I was trialling WebRoot's SpySweeper, which also bundles the Ask Toolbar).

But as mentioned above, you have to download the .msi version. For the latest, go to:

Under the "Learn More" column, click on "More Download" and select URL3, to download the latest .msi version: FoxitReader33_enu.msi (Size:6.72 MB).

Accept the EULA. (It is refreshingly short, and makes no mention of any toolbar or eBay).

Choose the "Custom Install".

Select from 4 additional tasks, as desired. (None involve eBay, or the Ask/Foxit Toolbar).

Click "Install". That's it. You will only have the most basic PDF Reader, with some modules disabled, which works with IE8, Firefox 3.6.3, and Opera 10.53. No unwanted toolbar, and no eBay in any of these browsers.

I am not apologising for Foxit- I think it a very sneaky vendor. But if all you need is a basic pdf Reader without bloat or unwanted extras, I can assure you the above has worked for me over several Foxit version upgrades, including the latest. I don't trust Foxit, but until I find a better alternative for my simple needs, I will hold my nose and use it.

8:50 PM  
Blogger Johnny said...

Not meaning to beat a dead horse here, but judging from the screen shots on the blog, unchecking the three boxes on the "ASK" toolbar install page will opt out of those features. The first one should be to opt out of the toolbar itself, and clicking on the terms link would give you a good indication of what you are doing with this part of the install.

It's possible that Foxit has made some changes to the installer since the blog was posted, as I just downloaded the latest version, and some of the wording of the three check boxes was different from the picture posted here. Namely, the first box has a bit more description that the terms mentioned are for the toolbar, not the PDF reader. The third check box now states "set my homepage to Foxit Software website", or something to that effect.

I'm not a fan boy, nor do I work for Foxit, and I'll be the first to say that Foxit should idiot proof their install software just a bit better. However, when someone who should know better can't be bothered to uncheck a box on an install program, or at the very least do a little research before publicly crying foul, you can bet I'm going to comment about it.

12:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill, you keep saying there is no check box and the Ask toolbar is installed without warning. I think you've been misled by the unclear layout of the dialog page. You wrote:

>"The download process was clean and simple as long as I remembered to uncheck the options to make my new search provider and home page."

You don't mention unticking the third box on that page, which says "I accept Licence Terms". Did you think that was for accepting the Foxit reader licence perhaps? It is actually referring to the Ask toolbar licence terms, and it is the box you have to untick; if you don't accept the ask toolbar licence terms, it won't be installed. You can uncheck that box and still click "next" and finish the installation, and you don't get the ask toolbar if you do so.

It's certainly non-obvious that the way to refuse the install is by not accepting the terms, but I thought it was obvious that all the checkboxes on this page are part of one related set to do with, and having already been through the license acceptance for the reader itself I was able to infer that this had to be the licence for something else.

I've taken some time to verify this in a VM, with a bunch of the recent versions of foxit, 3.1, 3.2 and 3.3, and not one of them installed the toolbar once I unchecked the "accept terms" tickbox.

Another thing to note is that the stuff is only included in the .exe downloads from foxit, if you choose the .msi package you don't get it at all. This may account for some of the misunderstandings that have cropped up in this comment thread.

Long and short of it is: Foxit does *not* install the toolbar if you tell it not to and there *is* a way to tell it not to; I'm afraid you're just plain wrong about that.

10:51 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thank you to the last poster for explaining why some folks excused me of being an idiot.

I do see how that the trick is in the agreement to the license. It's not entirely clear that this agreement is for the toolbar and not the FoxIt program. If I'm an idiot for no recognizing this I'm not alone.

While I acknowledge there is a way to install Foxit without the, it's still troubling to me that this screen was designed to encourage users to download the toolbar while giving FoxIt an valid excuse.

Having been approached by I know first hand that the intent is still to deceive the user.

Thanks for helping me to focus on this screen in a constructive way.


12:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I have noticed that Foxit reader has the last two time's I've installed it copied the Ask ToolBar files to my computer even though I checked that it not be installed."

Where are the ask toolbar files copied to when Foxit installs? I upgrade from w/in Foxit & afaik, there's no sign of any toolbar in the upgraded sw, nor in my browser as a choice in my search dropdown box, nor within view: toolbars. Also, I'm pretty sure that when install comes to a page w/ ask option, I uncheck everything (probably including any sw agreement, so maybe I'm ok). For sure Scotty hasn't barked re a new toolbar, so I know nothing is active. But I'd really like to be sure that nothing is taking up space on my older machine. So where are the ask toolbar files copied to when Foxit installs?

another thing: David W. -- has it occurred to you that Bill P., of all people, is testing an install from the perspective of the typical user?! click, click, click... with no protection.

9:58 AM  
Blogger Wade Brandis said...

Perhaps I need to try Foxit Reader sometime in the future. Hopefully for me it won't install that toolbar, but if it does, I will end up uninstalling it right away.

I still use Adobe Reader, and even though it packs along all the bloat stuff that you described in your article, it doesn't really slow my system down that much. (no, I don't work for Adobe. I have two computers, a desktop that has 1.37gb RAM and a laptop that has 2gb RAM. If I had less RAM, I would use CCLeaner to disable those Adobe Addons, or switch to something else.)

5:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Try PDF-XChangeViewer. It's everything FoxIt used to be -- fast and stable with minimal bloat.

The more recent versions do ask if you want to install a toolbar, but that's about it in terms of bloat.

11:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nitro now has a very full-featured free pdf program.

12:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not very long ago Foxit didn't have all that crapware in it, which is why it was recommended as good. I know because I downloaded it for the first time not too long ago and it was fine, no crap. So Foxit must have included all of that shortly before you downloaded it.

Guess I'll use Sumatra now on my new computer. Thanks for bringing this up or else I probably would have ended up with that toolbar from Foxit which would have really lit a fire under me...

7:46 AM  
Blogger Noel T. said...

Have any of you tried NITRO PDF reader.
I have used it for a few weeks and seams to be ok.
No bloatware yet.
Noel T.

10:01 PM  

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