An Adobe Reader update worth the download hassle
For the first time I can recall, there's an update to Adobe Systems' free Reader program that merits a reaction beyond resignation.
The new Reader X, released yesterday, includes three valuable features.
The first is a new layer of defense against increasingly common attacks on this widely used Portable Document Format application. As my old colleague Brian Krebs explained in a blog post last month, Reader X is a "sandboxed" application that runs with minimized access to the operating system. A virus that takes over the program gets stuck with the same limited privileges, a change that Krebs said "would be a major advancement for one of the computing world's most ubiquitous and oft-targeted software applications."
The second is the simple "Read Mode" it employs when opened inside a Web browser. Instead of cluttering the browser window or tab with its traditional horizontal and vertical toolbars, Reader lets the PDF fill the window. Only if you float the mouse over the bottom center of the page do you see a compact overlay of buttons to save or print the file, zoom in or out or show the toolbars.
Third, when you open a PDF saved on your hard drive, Reader X lets you add notes and highlight text. Until now, Adobe reserved those annotation functions for its $139-and-up lineup of Acrobat programs.
Sadly, Reader's download process remains inexcusably pushy. In Internet Explorer and Firefox, Adobe demands that you install a pointless download manager off its Web site (what is this, 1996?) and opts you into installing either Google's Toolbar alongside it (what is this, 2001?) or a McAfee virus scanner. Google's Chrome allows a direct download of the installer, or you can click this direct download link.
(Plus, would it kill Adobe to refrain from planting a Reader shortcut on my desktop? I'm willing to bet that most home users never open Reader on its own; they run it by double-clicking a PDF first.)
If you use a Mac, you don't need to worry about any of this: Apple's own Preview comes built-in (and has long offered a minimalist in-browser mode and provides better document-markup tools too). Windows users can also switch to such free Adobe alternatives as Foxit Software's Foxit Reader, which also includes more extensive annotation features, and the open-source Sumatra PDF.
But most Windows users still run Reader, so it's welcome news to see Adobe address this program's security issues and stop trying so hard to upsell people to Acrobat. I just hope this version doesn't exhibit the installation glitches readers have reported in the past. If it does, I'm sure you all will let me know soon enough in the comments.
| November 19, 2010; 6:39 PM ET
Categories: Productivity, Security
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