Monday, April 10, 2006

Document Readers Part Three

Reading Documents on Your Windows PC – Part Three

Microsoft Reader, Adobe Acrobat and the CONCLUSION to all three parts

This is the final of three posts on document readers for the Windows PC.  See also:

In this post I will briefly present and compare two products I use for reading documents:  Microsoft Reader and Adobe Acrobat.

Brief descriptions of my criteria are available in Part One.

Microsoft Reader  is available for Windows PCs and Pocket PCs.  My guess is that most people who use it use it primarily for personal reading.  However, it has a number of tools that led me to consider using it for academic reading.  That said, in the end I decided the other tools I am reviewing were much better options.

Cost:  FREE

File formats:  Unless you purchase third party software (I found none for free) you are limited to eBooks that you purchase OR Microsoft Word documents that you can convert yourself.  As an academic tool I tested this with academic papers that I could download into Word and then convert into Reader.  

Highlight and Annotation:  Highlight any passage by dragging your cursor over it with the left mouse button pushed down and you are presented with a number of useful options:  bookmark, highlight, add text note, add drawing (useful to write something on the pocket pc, or to circle passages, etc.), highlight, and several others.  Notes are placed as icons on the side of the page.  If you double-click you can see the text you added.

Ease of use:  The interface is simple, which is a good thing.  I especially enjoy maximizing the screen.  The black background surrounding the page really helps make the text pop from the screen.  

Document Search:  A number of useful search options.

Additional Features:  You can add bookmarks.  Reader will also provide an audio (computer-generated) reading of the text.

Disadvantages:  I said above I have chosen not to use this for academic reading.  Why?  First, without third-party software you cannot convert pdf documents into reader format.  Second, there is no easy way to print any of your notes, comments, the text itself…  These were similar to the disadvantages of Mobipocket Reader.

Adobe Acrobat Professional 7.0  is my favorite document reader.  However, the pocket pc version is “reader only”, so I only use it on the desktop.

Cost:  EXPENSIVE unless you are a student (or faculty/staff of a university).  
At Berkeley I am able to purchase it for less than $50 (student price; faculty price is closer to $150).  
On or the Adobe website you can pay more than $400 (normal price).

Of course, there is the free Adobe Reader.  And the free Reader has some of the features described below.  The only problem is that when you download a PDF those features (such as the ability to highlight and annotate) are often blocked by the authors of the documents.  You can usually un-block them with the Professional version.

File Formats:  PDF, obviously.  Also, the Adobe printer driver (and Microsoft Office Add-Ins) make it easy to convert other file formats into PDF.

Highlight and Annotation:  Wonderful options for highlighting, underlining (although I wish the lines could be bolder) and annotating.  You can view the notes and highlighted passages in separate panes.

Ease of Use:  Adobe is slightly more complicated than some of the other programs but far more powerful.  

Document Search:  Excellent search options.

Additional Features:  There are many features that I would never use.  But I am looking forward to someday using the software to help assemble my dissertation chapter into one coherent whole!

One note about Acrobat Professional: If all you want to do is create PDFs I thoroughly recommend you try a number of free pdf creators.  For a long time before purchasing Acrobat Professional I used PDF995 with excellent results.


It should be clear that I prefer Adobe Acrobat Professional 7.0 on my desktop PC for academic reading.  The following summarizes my feelings about when I would recommend using Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Reader, Cerience Repligo, or Mobipocket Reader.

Academic Reading on my Desktop or Laptop:  Adobe Acrobat Professional 7.0
Academic Reading on my Pocket PC:  Cerience Repligo;  use Mobipocket as a back-up for text documents that Cerience Repligo cannot convert

Reading a novel on my Desktop PC:  Microsoft Reader
Reading a novel on my Pocket PC:  Microsoft Reader; Mobipocket is a close second.

Thus, for most students out there interested in going “paperless”, I recommend purchasing Adobe Acrobat Professional if you can get it for the cheaper, student price.

There are other software solutions out there.  For instance:
  • Tablet  PC users may wish to try PDF Annotator which allows them to draw right on PDF documents;

  • There are plenty of annotating and highlighting capabilities in most modern word processors (including Microsoft Word, OpenOffice, and WordPerfect);

  • And it is likely that Microsoft OneNote for Office 2007 (due to be released next January) may provide Adobe some competition, at least on my own computer.

Categories:  Office Software, Pocket PC


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