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8/4/2009
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Tools That Help You Say No To Acrobat's PDF Bloat

These days, it pays to keep an eye out for lightweight, low-cost IT management tools that still get the job done. That is especially true when it comes to working with PDF documents.

These days, it pays to keep an eye out for lightweight, low-cost IT management tools that still get the job done. That is especially true when it comes to working with PDF documents.This week, InformationWeek.com published a guide to five tools for the thrifty IT manager. All five tools focus on tasks related to creating, organizing, and managing documents. That includes:

  • Backpack, a low-cost "idea and document management tool" that excels in situations where users need remote access to shared documents.

  • Microsoft Office Workspace, a free (but still deeply flawed -- it's still in beta) set of cloud-based document editing and sharing tools.

  • TreePad, which "collates notes, documents, files, links, and just about any other" form of digital information into a "cohesive database of searchable inofirmation."
The list also includes two tools that allow users to view and work with PDF documents: Foxit Reader, described as a "lightweight and fully capable PDF management tool" that includes browser plugin functionality; and PDF Creator, a free, open-source suite of PDF viewing, editing, and creation tools.

Any task that involves working with PDF documents can be extremely annoying, if not downright problematic. The source of the problem: Adobe's own Acrobat Viewer software, which continues to push the concept of bloatware to stunning new heights.

PDF Creator and Foxit Reader solve this problem to some extent; both tools offer many of the most frequently used features in Adobe Acrobat, and they require far less system overhead in the process.

Both also cost little or nothing to use, which gives them yet another advantage over Acrobat.

But I'll throw in another handy PDF viewer that isn't on InformationWeek's list. Sumatra PDF is a free, open-source application that trades off features for an incredibly lightweight design. If you simply need to view and/or print a PDF document -- quickly and easily -- then Sumatra PDF is probably the best solution around. The first time you open a PDF file using Sumatra, prepare to be shocked at how quickly it starts up and renders the document.

Sumatra PDF is also a great tool for road warriors working from a USB stick or other portable storage device. How portable is it? Once installed on Windows, Sumatra PDF requires around 1 MB of disk space, and it uses a stand-alone design with no external file dependencies.

Acrobat Reader 9 requires around 220 MB of space. You do the math.

Of course, Sumatra PDF offers just a fraction of the features you'll find in Acrobat Reader, or even in PDF Creator, for that matter. But since it handles the two most important PDF tasks -- viewing and printing -- quickly and reliably, it is still a very effective little app.

Here's another handy Sumatra PDF tip: If you need to print a PDF file that forbids printing, older versions (release 0.5 and earlier) may allow you to do so. Compatibility with newer versions of the PDF format may, of course, limit your ability to use this option.

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