The Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) is a popular (if strongly criticized) document format standard. One problem is the bald assertion of many sites providing material in PDF that "you must use Adobe Acrobat Reader" to access the material. This is simply untrue (however popular a misconception it might be — Google shows over 8,060,000 results for this term).
There are several applications you can use other than Adobe's own proprietary products for PDFs. This is meant to be a list of such alternatives.
- URLs: for most GNU/Linux distributions, many of these tools are pre-installed or are installable via your distribution's packaging system. Try these first, using the URL source as a last resort.
- GUI: Does the application offer a GUI interface.
- Console: Does the application offer a console / text-only interface and output. Note that this may offer limited functionality, particularly for graphical or scanned-in PDF files (e.g.: fax TIFF images in PDF wrappers).
- Free Software: Licensed under terms recognized as FSF Free Software or OSI Open Source licenses.
- Notes: Additional information. Unless noted, all applications do offer text search, hyperlinks, thumbnail contents, and password-protected PDFs.
The usual "old reliables" are xpdf and gv, though users of GNOME or KDE might prefer project-oriented PDF viewers (Evince, Okular).
|Program||Platform||GUI||Console (text-only)?||Free Software?||Notes|
|xpdf||Unix, Win w/X11||Yes||Yes||Yes||An open source GUI viewer for Portable Document Format (PDF) files. Requires: lesstif2, libpoppler.|
|Evince||Unix, Win w/X11||Yes||No||Yes||GNOME viewer for PDF, PostScript, Encapsulated PostScript, DJVU, and DVI files. Supports searching for text, copying text to the clipboard, hypertext navigation, and table-of-contents bookmarks. Requires: gconf2, gnome-icon-theme, libatk1.0, libcairo2, libdbus, libdjvulibre21, libevince3, libfontconfig1, libfreetype6, libgail18, libgtk-pixbuf2.0, libglade2, libglib2.0, libgnome-keyring0, libgtk2.0, libice6, libnautilus-extension1, libpango1.0, libpoppler-glib4, libsm6, libspectre1, libtiff4, libxml2, shared-mime-info, zlib1g.|
|Okular||Unix, Win w/X11||Yes||No||Yes||KDE 4.x PDF viewer, based on xpdf, bundled into the kdegraphics collection. Requires: libkdecore5, libkdeui5, libkio5, libkparts4, libjpeg8, libfreetype6, libkprintutils4, libkpty4, libkutils4, libokularcore1, libphonon4, libpoppler-qt4, libqca2, libqimageblitz4, libqt4, libqtcore4, libqt4-svg, libtq4-dbus, libqt4-xml, libqtgui4, libspectre1, libstreamanalyzer0, phonon, zlib1g|
|GNU gv||Unix||Yes||No||Yes||Ghostscript-based viewer for X11. Far better paging than most of the PDF-specific viewers, but lacks search, hyperlink, and thumbnail features. Based on Timothy O. Theisen's Ghostview, and a further development of Johannes Plass's initial gv implementation.|
|ePDFView||Unix||Yes||No||Yes||Lightweight PDF viewer for X11 based on Poppler and gtk+.|
|Ghostscript, ghostview, GSview||Unix, Win||Yes||No||Yes/No (GPL and AFPL)||These are an interpreter and two viewers. Specifically supporting legacy MS Windows in native versions.|
|Gpdf||Unix||Yes||No||Yes||GNOME PDF viewer, based on xpdf. EOLed in 2005, when it was rewritten and re-released as Evince. Old (deprecated).|
|KPDF||Unix||Yes||No||Yes||KDE 3.x PDF viewer, based on xpdf, bundled into the kdegraphics collection. Requires: kdelibs4, libfreetype6, libqt3, libxft2, libpaper1.|
|kghostview||Unix||Yes||No||Yes||KDE 3.x PDF viewer, based on Timothy O. Theisen's Ghostview, bundled into the kdegraphics collection. Requires: kdelibs4, ghostscript, libqt3.|
|pdftotext (1,2)||Unix, Win||No||Yes||Yes||A command-line utility to extract ASCII plaintext from PDF files. There are two implementations of pdftotext. The older one is part of xpdf. This is being widely replaced by the newer (re-)implementation, part of the Poppler project suite (often packaged as poppler-utils). Full text search (through your pager), no hypertext or thumbnails.|
|Vindaloo||Unix||Yes||No||Yes||Vindaloo is a PDF viewer for GNUstep.|
|ViewPDF||Unix, Win w/X11||Yes||No||Yes||ViewPDF was a PDF viewer for GNUstep. Controls and operation were awkward. It was replaced by Vindaloo.|
|GGv||Unix||Yes||No||Yes||GNOME Ghostview (GGv, gnome-gv) was a PDF/PostScript document viewer with hooks to gconf, bonobo, Nautilus, etc. It was developed as a GNU package, and has long been decomissioned.|
|Foxit Reader||Unix, Win, OSX, others||Yes||No||No||Proprietary PDF reader with support for navigation, bookmarks, etc.|
As for why you'd care for one of alternatives to Adobe's own offering, there are three general reasons:
- The free versions tend to be more up-to-date, bug-free, and better fits for specific environments (CLI, KDE, GNOME, WindowMaker / GNUstep) than Adobe's ancient Motif-based interface.
- Remember Dmitry!. Adobe is the company which jailed and persecuted a programmer for nearly a year, before dropping all charges, largely for providing solid evidence of the poor quality of Adobe's own encryption solutions. Of course, DRM = digital restrictions management is a whole 'nuther ball of worms.
- Spyware. Adobe has a record of abusing its software packages, including Acrobat Reader, to spy on users.
[RM comments: It's worth also reading LWN.net's 2004 "Grumpy Editor's Guide to PDF Viewers", http://lwn.net/Articles/113094/, and also http://www.pdfconverter.com/resources/using-pdf-in-linux#C2.]