Like many of those who frequently use their electronic data processing devices primarily to access information, I have for many years been a user of Adobe Acrobat Reader, a free product of Adobe Systems. After coming up with and implementing the excellent idea of devising a single electronic document format suitable for the encoding of more or less any kind of information that can be presented on a two-dimensional surface, Adobe understandably provided the software to read this format and present the information thus encoded so that people would actually use the format. After a few years, they even made the format (for which they hold several patents) free to use for anyone, to encourage its more widespread use, with a view to making money by selling software to create and manipulate PDF files. This strategy paid off, and PDF is now the format of choice for the distribution of printable documents by electronic means, including over the Internet.

It is something of a shame, therefore, that as it has passed through its several versions, Acrobat Reader has not evolved into the smooth efficient finely-polished tool that the naïve might expect to be the result of 18 years of development and refinement. Every version has come equipped with a new set of bugs, some of them of such thunderous levels of stupidity that one wonders how the developers ever learned to read and write to a sufficient level as to be able to learn to code them. I remember with particular fondness the way that one version would close all of its windows if you closed any one of them by clicking on the 'close' box provided by the operating system. The tendency to crash horribly that we know and love from Adobe Flash was also not foreign to Acrobat.

However, on the whole it was a useful application, and one was tolerant, was one not?, and looked forward to the next version, with its uglier graphics, even more voracious consumption of disk space, fixes for the current bugs, and exciting new defects. For a year or two now one has been sure not to miss the next version, since the programme has been supplied with one of the software world's more annoyingly insistent update reminders.

Time goes by, I had learned to tolerate the unacceptable, and one fine day I felt the need to print a PDF document. The latest version of Acrobat ('X', as it called itself, as if to pour mockery on the House of Apple, Arch-Enemy of the Clan of Adobe) had until this point distinguished itself only by the way its graphics spilled cleverly out of its splash screen, like the coils of guts in a splatter movie, and by the inevitable increase in fake gloss and shine effects on the buttons of its toolbars. But when it printed the document the text was all rendered in an ugly monospace typeface.

Like the people of Rome when they rose up to overthrow their tyrant king and establish a Republic whose glory would shine like a beacon across the Millennia, like a maltreated slave who realises that death may be preferable to bondage if he may not have freedom, like the grey corporate drone turned Guardian of the Common Weal, (known to the journalists as the whistleblower), whose honour will no longer allow him to remain silent in the face of the abuses he has meekly accepted for so long, like the guy in that film, you know the one where he just calmly kind of, like, freaks out and goes wild, like unto them did I rise up and call on that Great Oracle that is Google, and my call did not go unheeded:

PDF-XChange Viewer is a free application produced by Tracker Software, which runs under Windows. It displays and prints PDF files. It can also create them from digital images or directly from a scanner. You can add annotations or bookmarks to a file. Or search it for text, or do any of the other things I have done with Acrobat Reader over the years. It includes plug-ins for web browsers. It takes up 20MB of space on my hard disk. It does not nag me to update it. It does not crash. It lets me save filled-in forms. It can print multiple pages per sheet of paper. It starts up quickly. Its toolbars are medium-shiny and customisable. And it does not mess up the fonts when printing a PDF document.

Forgive me for spending most of a review of one piece of software talking about another. But there is little to say about PDF-XChange Viewer in isolation except that it does its job properly without any fuss. It is the contrast with the usual alternative that makes it stand out. Now all we need is a Flash Player that doesn't eat up half your hard disk and crash your browser, or lose the sound on music videos.

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