Adobe developed the Portable Document Format to standardize electronic document handling. PDF, the file format that carries the business world on its back, is everywhere, from product manuals to legal documents. To open, view, and edit PDFs, you need a PDF reader -- for example, Adobe's free Reader. Despite competition from simpler tools, Reader remains the standard the others are judged against. We looked at the latest version of Reader, Adobe Reader X. With it you can view and annotate all PDF files, sign documents electronically, and access optional Adobe Online subscription services directly from inside its interface.
Reader X's familiar interface opens with a quick-start file manager from which we could open a recent file or log in to an existing Adobe Online account. We clicked Open and browsed to a folder full of PDFs we use for testing. Reader rendered each document with high detail and faithful color reproduction. Clicking the Sign icon on Reader's toolbar let us digitally sign documents by adding text or attaching a signature via a wizard. We could also Print our document or e-mail it as an attachment or via Adobe SendNow. We could highlight text, add Sticky Notes, take a Snapshot, and attach Comments.
Reader has some extras that stripped-down competitors can't match, such as its Read Out Loud tool, which can read documents to you if you have sound capability. A Tracker tool monitors updates to Reviews and Forms. Under the Edit menu, entries labeled Protection, Analysis, and Accessibility let us manage security settings, check document accessibility, and analyze data using the Object Data Tool and Geospatial Location Tool. Reader doesn't lack support, either, starting with the sort of extensive Help file you'd expect from an Adobe product. The optional online services include converting PDFs to Word or Excel documents and creating PDFs using Adobe CreatePDF online. Clicking Tools toggles open the online extras.
As we noted, Adobe Reader X is the standard for freeware PDF readers, none of which can match Reader's capabilities and extras. Lighter, simpler tools are available, but Adobe's free reader remains the one to beat.