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Adobe re-discovers Linux with Reader v7

First Impressions it was about time
Thu Mar 24 2005, 07:42
WHILE STILL not officially listed in Adobe's download page, you can get Adobe Reader 7.0 for Linux from the company's FTP server.

A link is included at the end of this article for the impatient. I took advantage of this opportunity to get rid of the ugly Acrobat Reader 5.0.9 for Linux, which is included in several Linux distros including my current distro of choice, JDS.

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Adobe Reader 7 for Linux, showing its splash screen

The first obvious difference you will see is the download size: like the Windows versions, Adobe Reader version seven is significantly bigger than version five, weightng a hefty 39MB. However, before you fall off your chair, I must mention that in my tests, the size difference didn't make the program as slow as Adobe Reader 6.x for Windows, which can be unbearable unless it's put on a weight loss programme.

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The v7 reader in Sun's JDS linux distro, after opening a PDF file

Adobe's spokesman John Cristofano was quoted in a recent Cnet story acknowledging the company's past mishap with the phrase "It (v7) does load significantly faster than Adobe Reader 6 did". Loading took only a couple seconds in my test system, but that's not very useful considering it's a fast 2GHz Athlon 64. On the functionality level, it seems to offer the same set of features as the windows version, including "coolType" font rendering for smoothing reading on laptop/LCD screens. It also seems to support reading of encrypted and signed PDFs. Due to time constraints, encrypted or digitally signed PDFs were not tested as part of this article, so YMMV.

alt='adobereader7-linux-prefs'
A sneak peek at v7's preferences
screen, showing the cooltype setting, among others

My copy of Adobe Reader 7 installed smoothly in Sun's JDS linux, using a RPM built by the folks at gcclinux.com. During the course of this quick evaluation, I grabbed random PDF files from Microsoft.com, Adobe.com, IBM.com and Sun.com and opened them with this Adobe Reader version. The results were much more pleasing than navigating with the awkward Acrobat Reader version five.

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The old Acrobat Reader 5.x for Linux

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Ugly Motif file requester in Acrobat Reader 5.x

alt='adobe-reader-7-linux-gnome-file-requester'
Adobe Reader 7 for Linux uses the
system wide Gnome file requesters used in JDS

How committed is Adobs to Linux?
Last year, another report on Cnet talked about Adobe "dipping toes into desktop linux waters", and mentioned the company's job search for a position titled "director of linux market development". We don't know if that position was ever filled. However, this humble writer remains sceptical of Adobe's linux commitment, given the company's past history. In other words: IBIWISI ("I will believe it when I see it"). I can think of several reasons why Adobe's favourite bed partners, Microsoft and Apple, wouldn't see with much enthusiasm the idea of Adobe's main tools ported to desktop linux.

The current release of Adobe Reader 7 for Linux is very much welcome. The ancient Acrobat Reader 5.x for linux with its ugly lack of font smoothing in the user interface and its dated Motif-like file requester dialogues was _screaming_ for an update. The addition of Adobe's Acrobat 5.x along with current linux distros was an embarrassment for today's elegant and polished Gnome and KDE desktops. So, the availability of an Adobe Reader version in Linux on par with their windows and MacOS counterparts clearly gives a better image to desktop linux, regardless of the Linux extremists who are too quick to yell "who needs Adobe??". My message to them: it's called marketing and it's called perception, folks... the fact that there are open source viewers for PDF files does not in any way downplay the importance of having desktop Linux among the list of operating systems officially supported by Adobe.

However, history proves that Adobe has released PDF viewers for niche OSs in the past, like IBM's AIX Unix or Solaris, which were quickly forgotten. I was very excited back in 1996 when I ran OS/2 almost exclusively as my desktop OS and suddenly Adobe surprised us one day with a native Acrobat Reader 3.0 for OS/2 Presentation Manager. It didn't last, however, and OS/2 users were left with 3.0 as the last version for the venerable OS, even while the Windows and MacOS version kept moving forward. Only recently, OS/2 users were able to get a pseuso-native Acrobat Reader 4.05, which is actually the Windows version repackaged along win32 API compatibility libraries.

Will history repeat with Adobe Reader for Linux? I hope not, and I think that's the key to the story. If Adobe continues releasing Linux versions with every new Adobe Reader iteration, then Linux users will be able to take their commitment seriously. If they don't, well, I'd know then that it was just like Acrobat Reader 3.0 for OS/2 once was. And the true test will be whether Adobe eventually releases their authoring tools, not just viewers, for the Linux platform.

Regardless of speculation, Adobe Reader 7.0 for Linux is a welcome addition to the Linux software landscape, and those who want to test this release can grab it off Adobe's FTP site. Users of Sun's Java Desktop (JDS) Linux distro can get a rpm over here. Congratulations, Adobe... we can only say about time too. µ

See Also
Liposuction to improve Adobe Reader 6 load time
Adobe's quiet release of Reader software causes people to scream

 

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