Recently I installed a piece of software that’s absolutely critical to several projects I’m currently working on. The software worked perfectly, but the installation had one very annoying side effect: After I installed the required software, the Adobe Reader software for PDF files would sometimes lock up the system when launched. The problem didn’t happen every time that Adobe Reader ran, but often enough to be an incredible pain: I never knew when opening a PDF file would crash the system.

I went through all of the usual diagnostic steps—reinstallation, changing the order in which I installed the software, updating to the most recent version, downgrading to an older version, ad infinitum. But nothing made any difference and email to Adobe tech support offered no real help. Finally, I uninstalled Adobe Reader and went on a search for a good alternative, which led me to Foxit Software. Foxit is the developer of the Foxit Reader for Windows, a very lightweight, fast, and feature-rich free PDF reader.

I admit to having never been very happy with the Adobe Reader software. I love the PDF format and am cognizant of the value of Adobe’s championing of the format, but the Reader software always seemed somewhat bloated, becoming more so with each release. I well understand the tradeoffs involved when using free software as well, but I often found myself having to reconfigure the system that Adobe Reader was installed on in order to prevent it from launching itself and its updater as a standard part of Windows startup. (The habit vendors have developed of inserting applications into the system tray and with invisible startup is something I need to address in another column).

The Foxit reader is like a breath of fresh air after using Adobe Reader for so long. Foxit is faster to load, easier to use, seems quicker to respond when working with large PDF documents, and is regularly updated and improved by the vendor. The free version even supports in-document annotation so that you can mark-up your PDF documents (though you will get “evaluation version” comments if you use this feature in the free version). Even so, I’ve found this feature very useful when going over reference materials provided by clients in PDF form, as it lets me highlight and annotate important material. If you need to get rid of the evaluation comments in the software, Foxit Reader is reasonable priced at $39 for an individual user of the Pro version. Foxit also offers a version for mobile devices. Although I haven’t had a chance to thoroughly wring that version out, I have noticed that it works better and renders more clearly than previous PDF readers I’ve tried for Windows Mobile 2003 and Windows Mobile 5.0. The Foxit Reader software can be downloaded from Foxit's Web site.

Tip – Once again I was surprised by a client request for something that I always considered blindingly obvious. The owner of a brick-and-mortar-business that has recently expanded to the Web asked me to recommend a good image capture and editing software package because his marketing guy wanted to do a print flyer with a picture of the Web site on it, and he needed to grab the screen off of the computer. I told him to just open the Web site in his browser and hit the Print Screen button, then use the Paste feature in his document to add the image. He replied that he needed only a part of the home-page screen for the flyer. I popped open my notebook, loaded his Web site into a browser, hit Print Screen, and proceeded to show him how to use the Microsoft Paint application found on every Windows desktop. It was a simple matter to cut out the section of the screen he wanted to use and save it as a JPEG. His response was one I hear often from clients: “Oh. I didn’t even know that was there.”