SumatraPDF: the Lightest PDF Viewer

It’s almost guaranteed that if you ever load up a PDF on a Windows computer somewhere in the world, the familiar splash screen of Adobe Reader will pop up. It’s so familiar to everyone that the words Adobe and PDF were usually found together for years since its rise to popular use. It’s a shame really. Adobe is infamous for taking what used to be a perfectly decent PDF viewer, and bloating it up beyond recognition.

Nowadays people are tending to shy away from its grasp, as Adobe Reader becomes slower and slower, and ends up becoming a lesser viewer as its minimalist PDF-viewing brethren surpass it. SumatraPDF is one of those. But is it any good?

If you’re looking for a nice minimal solution, presented as a whopping four megabyte download that provides all your basic PDF viewing needs, then SumatraPDF is tailored for you. It’s a tiny little app that can either be installed on your PC or just be used as a standalone app extracted from a .zip file. Perfect for old laptops or computers, or just to keep handy on a USB key.

Krzysztof Kowalczyk, the mastermind behind this minimal app, has been developing SumatraPDF on and off since 2006, and though development has been slowing down over this past year, it’s really not required. It’s that simple, and all you need.

Features?

I’m glad you asked. Though it’s a teeny-weeny file size, SumatraPDF does actually manage to cram in a number of great features. For the casual PDF reader, it’s just the right amount of features to not feel wanting.

Of course, SumatraPDF supports PDF files, as well as XPS, Divu, CHM, CBS and CBR files. As of the most recent 2.1 version, SumatraPDF now also supports ebooks as well, which includes Amazon’s popular .mobi format, and the regular ol’ .epub format. This makes it pretty fantastic for such a small file-size

As for general PDF features, all that you would expect is there. Viewing, printing, selecting and other assorted verbs that you’d find a basic PDF reader to have, or any type of document-viewing application, really.

Other features include:  command-line functions, keyboard shortcuts, LaTeX support (with a little fiddling) and a browser plugin as well. Marvellous.

The boorish yellow can be forgiven, for such a tiny useful app.

Performance

Performance-wise, SumatraPDF is a beast, albeit a low-footprint kind of beast. It’s currently sitting at less than 3mb of memory used without anything open, that’s a winner in comparison to other PDF viewers. But then again, who wants to keep just the app open? It’s when you have actual PDFs opened where it also shines.

SumatraPDF runs with such a low footprint, you wonder if something is actually wrong with it. With a couple of 1-2 page PDFs open no more than 15mb of memory has been used. Considering the likes of Foxit Reader and Adobe Reader idle at that kind of level, without even having PDFs open is pretty good.

Browsing within the PDF is nice and smooth. Many of the more minimal of PDF readers out there tend to be that way because pages that you are not currently looking at are not rendered yet. SumatraPDF runs the same way, but the rendering is hardly noticeable unless it’s a very heavy-laden PDF, such as with my next PDF experiment.

For the final, I opened up a whopping 400mb tabletop role-playing game manual, laden with pictures on just about every page. Memory usage went up in to the hundreds of megabytes, which is perfectly understandable, yet still also the lowest of usage compared with other apps. Rendering pages, especially those with a ton of pictures on them, tends to take a little bit of time, but that’s really quite normal.

Drawbacks

Of course, there will always be some drawbacks, but there are not as many as you might think. Yes, there are a lot of features missing that the likes of PDF-Xchange viewer and Foxit Reader have in spades, such as PDF authoring tools and tabbed browsing.

Speed-wise, it’s not quite as fast as some of its competitors when it comes to rendering the pages, but it’s by no means fallible. It’s a bit of a trade-off: Either you have fast loading PDFs that take a little time to render per page, or you have a completely loaded PDF, but it takes a little longer to load up.

Unfortunately for independent PDF viewers, Windows 8 will come with a fully-featured in-house PDF viewer, and of course Google Chrome has its basic in-house PDF viewer as well. So where does this SumatraPDF? Well, for one, those who are not adopting Windows 8, or are willing to use the Modern UI Fullscreen to use their PDFs, and those who are not a fan of Google Chrome’s basic PDF support, which in fact can get rather slow.

Finally, unfortunately there’s not much going in SumatraPDF’s development cycle at the moment. The last update was a couple of months ago now, so the development has stalled somewhat. Not that that spells bad for the app, it’s perfectly functional and really all you need for a minimal PDF app.

Conclusion

Well, it’s  certainly sitting on my computer. It’s fast, lightweight and free of all the bloat that Adobe Reader, and to a lesser extent Foxit Reader, has become. If you’re not looking for any bells and whistles, this is really all you need. It’s the tiniest and most lightweight PDF reader you’ll find, and it’s surprisingly fast to boot.


Summary

Fast, lightweight basic PDF reader for all your PSD viewing needs.

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