Foxit Reader has long been the most visible Windows alternative to Adobe Reader, but in the latest update this popular freeware falters. How far it's stumbled depends on how annoyed you get at installation shenanigans. Granted, there are some useful new features added, but where the jump from version 2 to version 3 cut bloat while adding in a few features, version 4 adds some new features while also throwing some unpleasant curve balls your way.
The setup process has grown more cumbersome, without a doubt. It automatically will check you into the Foxit license agreement, and users are also opted-in to the Foxit Search Bar which changes your default search provider to Ask and makes Ask.com your home page. On their own, these would be annoying enough, but users are also opted-in to the Foxit add-on for Firefox, and into creating desktop, quick launch, and Start menu icons that link to eBay. Obviously, that's a business model plan for Foxit, but the connection between Foxit and eBay is even more tenuous than Foxit and Ask.com.
Worst of all, in our tests it commandeered the default PDF reader setting even though we unchecked that box.
I dislike criticizing a company's business model, but forcing users to opt-out instead of opt-in combined with a surprisingly large number of preselected options, and it's hard not to conclude that the cumbersome installation unfairly burdens the program's otherwise reasonable features.
The interface is practically indistinguishable from the previous version. The toolbar still contains a lengthy row of icons. It's not a bad design, but it does look very Windows XP and might be overwhelming to some users. Nine months after the official launch of sales-ripping Windows 7 is too long to be ignoring the new paradigm. Thankfully, the toolbar is fully customizable, with a deep set of options. You can start tweaking the configurations by right-clicking on it.
There are some useful new features that should serve to remind users why alternatives to Adobe Reader are so valuable. In addition to the tabbed PDF reading, measuring tools, and auto-scrolling, it appears that Foxit has removed its demand that users install its toolbar before getting access to editing features, such as highlighting, commenting, hyperlink creation. There's a new text view feature that automatically lets you view a PDF as text-only, and watermark-free printing has been extended to users of the free edition.
Foxit does lack some notable options, such as PDF creation and drag-and-drop, and the persistent pestering to add features is annoying, even though some of the features that you can add to Foxit are free. For example, Foxit promotes an online collaborative system called OnDemandCM on the program's landing page when you open Foxit without loading a PDF. Once you install the add-on you'll be asked to register at the Foxit site, but using the service itself isn't free.
Over a half-day of use, Foxit's performance varied. Mostly it would open PDFs and maneuver within them easily; occasionally it would be sluggish and momentarily unresponsive. Foxit still remains lighter on your system resources than Adobe Reader, but given the improving performances of online and in-browser editing tools and the strong debut of the free Nitro PDF Reader, it's hard to recommend Foxit enthusiastically.