I used to have a lot of respect for Adobe. Back in the mid-to-late 90s, Adobe FrameMaker was seriously considered a leading desktop publishing tool, Adobe Photoshop was the premiere choice for image editing, and Adobe's Acrobat Reader was a great little piece of free software (at a time when not much professional-quality software was downloadable for free). However, time has not been kind to the Acrobat Reader.

It always boggles my mind when newer versions of software are significantly worse than older versions. And I'm not talking about features which are different and just take time getting used to. I'm talking about functionality that actually is worse than in a previous version. One example of the top of my head is Microsoft Office XP's help files. Is it just me or is everything in there harder to find now? To me, it feels like they have outsourced the documentation to a non-English-speaking country in an effort to cut costs.

But I digress, back to Adobe: I've used the Acrobat Reader since version 3.01 and for me, it was really the only way to read PDF files. I considered 4.0 a great improvement in terms of usability at the cost of some bloat. I downloaded 5.0 when it come along but didn't really find it any better than 4.0, just slower to load and run.

But when I had Acrobat 6.0 installed at work, I was dumbfounded to see how much more bloated and unusable it had become.

The load time is horrendous. Thankfully you can fix that by following a few simple steps that are now everywhere on the internet: Rename the "plug_ins" directory to "plug_ins_disabled", create a "plug_ins" folder and move a few plugins into the "plug_ins" folder from "plug_ins_disabled": EWH32.api, printme.api, search.api and search5.api. This tip works the same for Acrobat or Acrobat Reader.

But by far, the worst feature for Acrobat 6.0 (even worse than the SLOOOOW load-time) is, without question, its Search function. They took away the little "Find" dialog box that allows you to do a search in a document you have open and replaced it with a "Search" pane. When you click the search button, the pane is added to the window, shrinking the size of the document area. This is not an option, there is no other way to search in a document.

Worse yet, the Search pane is not resizable. It is fixed width, you can't drag to resize it like any other reasonable piece of software when you want to actually see one of your search results at a readable resolution in the document.

Also horrible is that the Search function itself is slower than in previous releases (apparently they use a different algorithm). I cannot fathom how anyone thought that this was an improvement over existing search/find functionality.

One other little thing I hate about Acrobat Reader 6.0: It has an actual advertisement in its toolbar. This little button actually eats into valuable toolbar space and periodically changes to remind me that I can "Read an eBook for free", etc. This is functionality I did NOT want, so I disabled it.

However, there is good news in all this. The latest version (7.0) has added back in the "Find" function in the form of a little tiny dialog box that has the same functionality as back in 5.0. The load time for 7.0 has also been drastically improved it seems.

So, my recommendation: Go download Acrobat Reader 7.0 (all 21 MB of it), disable the ads by following this tip and once again enjoy reading your PDF documents.

§56 · March 2, 2005 · Software, Technology, Tips · · [Print]

Leave a Comment to “Improving Adobe Reader”

  1. Rob says:

    I’d been avoiding upgrading my Acrobat Reader for a while now, but apparently my new notebook came with a new Acrobat. It took so long to load when I browsed to a pdf file in firefox that I thought the computer had locked up. It’s maddening. The pdf file format is accepted universally these days but there’s still just the one application that reads it (afaik). I don’t like to make moral statements about how companies should act, but it’s really hard for people to get around the crapifying of such a ubiquitous tool.

  2. There are many PDF viewers out there nowadays. I’d say install 7.0 or do that plug_ins directory thing I mention and you’ll be fine. Back to the speed of 3.01 Reader.

  3. Mauriat says:

    You know you missed one of the most frustrating things for me. Back when I used v3, one of the best parts was being able to swap documents between Unix, Windows and Mac in near perfect transition. Lately I’ve been finding more and more PDF files telling me that some feature cant be used on my version or some element can’t be viewed. So much for having a universal document concept. Sure there’s v7 for Win, but for everything else?

  4. Catherine says:

    Since I upgrade to the V7.0, I can no longer search my documents. Is this a failure? I have done re-installs, gone back to 6.0 and upgraded again. Same problem. Thanks

  5. Catherine, as I explained in this entry, Acrobat Reader 6.0 does not have a Find toolbar anymore and was replaced by a “Search” pane. I would re-install Acrobat Reader 7.0 and look under the “Edit” menu. In that menu you should see “Find” and “Search”. I recommend choosing “Find”. Also, you can see if you accidentally disabled the Find toolbar. Try going to the View menu and look under “Toolbars”. If “Find” is unchecked, check it to see the Find toolbar.

    Otherwise, I’m at a loss as to what your problem might be.

  6. Vojta says:

    Horrible, fat, overgrown piece of software and worse yet, some people choose to archive text in it. In 20 years, if they do not get a new version every year to update the format their texts are stored in, their archive will become unusable junk. Avoid PDF on projects that are meant to last, instead, use plain text, where applicable. Thats my rule 🙂

  7. Personally, I think markup like HTML has longevity too, provided you clearly separate presentation (CSS) from content.