PDF is a document format initially developed by Adobe and subsequently approved as an open standard by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
This storage format for digital documents has become tremendously popular for its advanced features, such as the ability to include any combination of text, multimedia elements, or hyperlinks; the multiplatform support since it does not change its structure or its appearance when used interchangeably in the central systems (Windows, Mac, or Linux) or the possibility of being encrypted and digitally signed.
Free PDF Readers for Windows
Like any digital format, these documents require applications capable of handling them. If the first was Adobe Reader itself, today there is no lack of offer, free and paid. However, its support varies a lot from the mere ability to read its content to the possibility of creating, editing, converting it to and from other formats, and using advanced functions such as –, OCR, or electronic forms.
Among the first, simply readers, the web browsers stand out—a mass-use application whose main developments can read the PDF format. If you want more specialized solutions in PDF formats or those that include editing/creation capabilities, surely the proposals that we leave you below will come in handy, free for Windows. However, some of the lists support other platforms.
Undoubtedly the best alternative to using web browsers to view PDFs. It does not have editing capabilities, but it is super light, loads these types of files at an enormous speed, supports the use of tabs, has a good number of keyboard shortcuts for handling, and supports other types of files that are not suitable. More if you want to limit the applications to install, including e-books in ePub and Mobi formats and comics in CHM, CBZ, and CBR formats.
Sumatra is not only free but open source and is additionally available in a portable version that does not need installation. If you are only looking to read PDF, it is a guarantee.
It was one of the first alternatives to Adobe Reader. As you will see, its main interface has many editing tabs that cover a variety of advanced options, text markup, typewriter option, form handling, digital signatures, plus. Unfortunately, some more advanced options, including shared reviews, will be grayed out as they are only available with a paid commercial license.
You can still use the free version because it is undoubtedly the free reader with more features and customization. It can add your shortcuts to the quick action toolbar or the Ribbon interface that will sound familiar to you from Microsoft Office. Besides Windows, it supports the rest of the leading platforms, Linux, Mac, and mobile systems.
Very similar to the previous one in capacity and customization, although perhaps with a somewhat less ‘clean‘ interface and greater consumption of resources in execution. It offers a good set of free features (70% of the total), including editing and annotations. Other functions that call professionals are paid, although they can also be used in exchange for a watermark.
The Ribbon toolbar is highly customizable and includes additional features like customizable dynamic stamps, an enhanced OCR plug-in, and a PDF-XChange Lite virtual printer. Available on their website.
With fewer specific functions for PDF than the previous two, it stands out for its viewer functions and is a universal reader of technical and scientific documents. Besides PDF, it supports TXT, Comic Book Archive, DjVu, MOBI, EPub, various image formats, etc.
The strong point of STDU Viewer is the management of several different documents simultaneously. Not only can you open documents in tabs and expand a navigation pane, but you can also create and navigate bookmarks and highlights, view thumbnails of open documents, and split windows to compare different pages within the same document. Another cool feature is to invert the colors to reduce eye strain.
Using the Microsoft Office suite, you will feel at home because its interface is practically a carbon copy with Ribbon in front. It has everything you could ask for in an application of its kind and advanced functions for forms or signing documents with digital identification. You can also add notes, extract images, or convert a PDF to a plain text document.
Although Nitro PDF Reader is free, you cannot get that version directly. You have to download the trial version. After the trial time, you will lose quite a few options, although other basic ones can be used for free.
Adobe Acrobat Reader
We close with the best known, a de facto standard created by the same company that initially developed the format. Its interface is clean and elegant, and its execution capacity is maximum. If a PDF doesn’t work for you with Acrobat, it won’t work for any alternatives.
In the tools tab, you will find many advanced options to edit, combine, export, and sign documents, but they will not work if you do not acquire the license. Available on the Adobe website.
The main web browsers on the market, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Microsoft Edge, have built-in PDF support, and it is an excellent way to view these types of documents due to their speed and low consumption of resources. On the other hand, not all PDFs are compatible, and also, you will not have access to any editing and advanced functions.
In Windows 10 (or Windows 11), Edge is the default browser for viewing PDF, although it can be modified in Settings> Applications> Default applications> Choose default applications by file type. When you run a PDF, a separate tab opens with a toolbar and functions for searching, adjusting the zoom level, printing, sharing, saving, or adding it to favorites or Reading List.
Chrome’s PDF interface is similar to Edge’s, and in addition to Edge features, you can rotate the document, which is essential on a Windows tablet or 2-in-1. As for Firefox, it offers -for my taste- complete support. In addition to the standard features offered in Chrome and Edge, you can expand a sidebar, rotate in both directions, and toggle the hand tool.