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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Lighten the Load

"Back in the day," when much information was stored in flat text files, information organization and retrieval tools were perhaps not as developed as they are today, but information access sure seemed quicker. The programs in front of the data were lighter. (Remember "cat, more, and grep?") Today, there's typically a large program interposed between user and data. Granted, these programs are often awesome in their functionality, but for simple tasks, I prefer simpler programs. I'm frustrated by the time it takes to launch complex programs when all I want to do is read the contents of a data file.

My biggest complaint perhaps is with the Adobe Acrobat Reader. It's a leviathan, unusually large and slow to awake. Launching it seems to take forever, which I find ironic given that the PDF files I receive are typically meant for my review (reading), not complex manipulation. How hard could displaying the file be?

I've found a way to lighten the load time and my wait: Foxit Reader.

I've uninstalled Adobe's product and use Foxit Reader instead. Right off the bat what's interesting is that there's no need to install Foxit Reader. That's right - no installation, which recalls again for me the "good ol' days" before DLLs, the registry, and installers. Foxit, when first run, will automatically associate with PDF files forever after, so that double-clicking a PDF will launch Foxit.

Foxit is tiny: at 1MB it is nearly just 1% of Acrobat Reader in size. Commensurately, Foxit has a very sprightly launch, fully functional in under a second. Of course, with this comes some limitations, but I haven't yet found them to be inconvenient. For instance, you cannot fill in forms. Of course, in Adobe Reader you can't save the forms you fill in, so I'm certainly not missing anything in this function. Perhaps due to Foxit's tiny size, it is unable to display 3D content in files, but I use Autodesk's superior DWF format for that anyway.

There are many lighter-weight viewers available. Others I've found useful, particularly on my websurfing laptop include viewers for Microsoft Office files, which I often receive as email attachments but do not need to edit. Here's where to get them:

Visio 2003 Viewer
PowerPoint Viewer 2003
Excel Viewer 2003
Word Viewer 2003

As well, I've installed lightweight, fully-functional (as far as I can tell) viewers for multimedia.

Real Alternative, a player capable of playing RealMedia (.rm) files
QuickTime Alternative, to play QuickTime files (.mov, .qt, .3gp and other extensions)

All of these programs are well-behaved, with no annoying popups, or nags. I value the speed these viewers have returned to me. I'd gladly pay for them if only they all weren't so, well...free.

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