PDF Readers: No to Adobe and Foxit; Maybe to Sumatra

I’ve never been a fan of PDF documents, but now that I have a tablet PC, I thought I would try reading a few PDF documents and see how my tablet functions as an e-book reader, mostly for magazines, dissertations, or the occasional advance proof copy that someone wants to share with me.

My first order of business was to find an alternative to Adobe Reader, the bloated default monstrosity that periodically treats me to a pop-under window asking me to approve a pointless upgrade (completely freezing my browser until I go hunting for the box and click it). All I really want to do is scroll through the darn pages, occasionally searching for and/or copying text, and infrequently saving the whole thing as a text file.

I looked up Foxit, a free Firefox plug-in alternative to Adobe Reader. It looked good for a moment, but then I noticed that I had to approve to the installation of something called the “Ask.com Toolbar” if I wanted certain features.  I rejected the toolbar, which means that I got a crippled version that doesn’t seem to be able to copy text. There’s also a little blinking strip that flashes advertisements for Foxit. Sorry, no. I don’t want that distracting my reading. (Yes, I am sure that I want to uninstall Foxit Reader, thanks for asking.)

Next I tried Sumatra. It loads fast, it fits on an SD card, and it has a minimalist design.  Best of all, the manual is a simple HTML page, not a bandwidth-hogging PDF document. A note indicates that printing is not well-tested, but I suppose I can always print from a comptuer lab if I must. But I also note that the program doesn’t let you save the whole document as a text file. That might be a deal-killer for me.

Adobe has an online PDF-to-text converter, but the 11MB file that I tested got rejected for being too large. There are some geeky tools that convert PDFs to text, such as the pdftotext tool in the Xpdf suite. And again, I can always use the copy of Adobe Acrobat on one of the lab computers.