The PDF format is a popular way to distribute document files while maintaining precise formatting and layout. You can read PDF's on a wide range of devices from personal computers to smart phones and tablets. Many Windows users open PDF files using the free Adobe Acrobat Reader.
Adobe Acrobat Reader is a resource heavy and closed source application. Sumatra PDF 1.8 for Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7 is a lightweight, open source free alternative PDF viewer. Unlike Acrobat Reader, Sumatra PDF can be run as a portable application, meaning it does not even need to be installed and can be launched from a thumb drive. Sumatra PDF uses very little memory and launches very quickly. This is especially valuable on slower machines which can become bogged down by the weight of Acrobat Reader.
Installed or Portable
When you download Sumatra PDF, you can choose either the installed or portable version. The installed version can be set as the default PDF reader for Windows. The installed version also includes a plug-in to use Sumatra PDF as the PDF reader inside the Firefox, Chrome, and Opera web browsers. (Note that Chrome already includes its own native PDF reader.)
The portable version of Sumatra PDF is simply one executable file. You can launch it from anywhere, including a USB thumb drive, on any Windows XP or newer machine. Consider that "PDF" itself stands for "Portable Document Format", having a truly portable PDF reader like Sumatra PDF is a big plus.
Multiple Document Formats
Although Sumatra PDF contains "PDF" right in its name, this viewer can actually open other document formats as well. Specifically:
- XPS: Developed by Microsoft as competition to PDF, current Windows versions include a native XPS printer to create XPS documents from any application.
- DjVu: Another alternative to PDF, DjVu is an open source document format especially tuned to storing scanned documents with a mixture of text and graphics.
- CBZ/CBR: The CBR format (and its ZIP-compressed sibling CBZ) is a document format for storing comic books and graphic novels.
Sumatra PDF can view documents in any of these formats, making it quite versatile. However, it does not convert documents from one format to another.
The one exception to this is that Sumatra PDF can save documents to text (.txt) format. Of course this will save only the text content itself and discard any graphics and formatting.
While Sumatra PDF is a great lightweight document reader, it does have some limitations worth noting. Of course, Sumatra PDF is only available for Windows, so that's one.
Sumatra PDF cannot read PDF files that are protected with DRM (digital rights management). For example, some commercial e-books in PDF form contain DRM protection so that the purchasing owner can read them only on an authorized platform. Sumatra PDF will not open these.
Sumatra PDF also does not support PDF forms. Some PDF documents, such as some downloaded from the US Government (like tax forms) include electronic form fields that the user can fill out. Sumatra PDF will display these documents but the form fields cannot be edited. According to a recent posting by the Sumatra PDF developer, this feature is complex and is not currently being worked on.
Although Sumatra PDF is not the one be-all and end-all of PDF viewers, it is a very fast and portable program for the many times you simply need to read a PDF.