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Reclaiming the PDF from Adobe Reader

by apatel Contributions Published on Dec 05, 2014 10:58 AM
In October, it was discovered that Adobe had removed the link to download Adobe Reader, its proprietary PDF file viewer, for use with a GNU/Linux operating system.

While it is still possible to install Adobe Reader on GNU/Linux, Adobe's attempts to hide access to the product for certain users is only one example of its systematic neglect of its GNU/Linux user base, and falls in line with many others as a demonstration of the importance of free software--software that no company or developer can neglect or hide. As the Windows and OSX versions of the software were developed through version 11, the GNU/Linux version was long stuck at version nine. For several years the software has lacked important features, security improvements, and support against malware attacks and other intrusions. Yet, by "locking in" Adobe Reader users and making it difficult for them to migrate to a free software PDF viewer, Adobe has, in effect, degraded the power of the PDF as a free document format, a standard the purpose of which is to be implemented by any potential piece of software and to be compatible with all. The company has abandoned the principle of program-agnostic documents, bringing about a lose-lose situation for all.

By being led to rely on the proprietary software for tasks like sharing documents and filling out forms without the option to use a free software reader in its place, entreprises, the public sector, and institutions of higher learning have also fallen victim to this neglect, all as Adobe insidiously seeks to maintain a hold on its market share. Within institutions such as government--institutions that ought not to rely on any proprietary software, to begin with--it is concerning that Adobe Reader has often been taken to be the only option for interacting with PDF files and for communicating with the electorate.

Thankfully, there are several free software PDF readers available for both GNU/Linux users and users of other operating systems, such as Evince for Gnome and Okular for KDE. These programs are often lauded for being more reliable, user-friendly, and secure than Adobe Reader, and are on the frontier of the many examples of free software programs which outperform their proprietary competitors. If you'd like to view a comparison of these free software PDF readers, alongside a range of other programs that serve the same purpose,, a campaign by The Free Software Foundation Europe, is a great place to start.

Also, if you're a programmer, writer, designer, or planner, pitch in to the efforts to improve free software PDF readers, whether by fixing bugs and adding new features, writing documentation, or creating interfaces and graphics. Happy hacking!

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