I want to read PDF files on Windows.

The PDFs can be quite large (like 50 MB) but they do not contain interactive forms nor special gadgets.
I just do casual human reading, no automatic data extraction.


  • Open source (OSI-approved license)
  • I can copy text from PDFs that are text-based (no image OCR needed)
  • Bonus if works all the way back to Windows 7
  • As fast and reliable as possible

4 Answers 4


One of my personal favourites is SumatraPDF.


  • Sumatra PDF is a free PDF, eBook (ePub, Mobi), XPS, DjVu, CHM, Comic Book (CBZ and CBR) reader for Windows.
  • Sumatra PDF is powerful, small, portable and starts up very fast.
  • Simplicity of the user interface has a high priority.
  • Multiple documents in tabs
  • Keyboard Navigation
  • Open Source, see project, GPL v3.
  • Supports resume (remembers your place in documents)
  • Unlike Acrobat, Sumatra PDF will not lock the PDF files it opens, and will automatically detect modifications and reload modified files on the same page. (This is great when working with PDF-generating tool-chains, as you can just leave the PDF open in Sumatra and re-generate it.)

I have never had problems with it opening large PDF files - in the screenshot below I have 4 pdf files with sizes of 79 MB, 45 MB, 36 MB and 20 MB all together containing 1770 pages many with images or graphics - still working fine. enter image description here

I am a regular user of the above but not otherwise involved.

  • 29
    Very important for some uses: Unlike Acrobat, Sumatra PDF will not lock the PDF files it opens, and will automatically detect modifications and reload modified files on the same page.
    – alexis
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 20:26
  • 2
    @EngineerToast - I have reworded the offending paragraph! Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 5:31
  • 3
    @alexis that also applies to evince, but is a very useful feature for TeX-users
    – Chris H
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 8:29
  • 5
    One thing about SumatraPDF is that it is really fast to render anything you throw at it. I would say that it is a lot faster than Adobe Reader, but that's subjective. SumatraPDF really gets my recommendation. Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 10:48
  • 2
    "Supports resume" So if I apply to a job, SumatraPDF will make me look like a more impressive candidate?
    – anon
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 18:43

I use Chrome (the browser) as my PDF reader. This works well and, if you use Chromium, is open-source.

Enabling Google Chrome as Your Default PDF Reader:

Start off by right-clicking on any PDF file, and heading to the “Open with” item on the menu. If you don't see this, you can usually hold Shift and right-click, and it will be there.

Note that other browsers with OSS-friendly PDF readers (such as Firefox) will do this equally well.

  • 17
    Not very important now, but the Chrome PDF plugin was originally not open source, and was open-sourced in 2014.
    – muru
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 8:59
  • Browsers are bloated beasts, so I wouldn't recommend using one as your reader. Plus, that easily gets mixed up with all the other tabs you have in your browser.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 16:20

You can use Evince for Windows (part of the GNOME project which is the part of GNU project, licensed under the GPL license). It works even in Windows XP. The latest version available for Windows is

Note: this version of Evince was compiled in 2011. The result is that any problem found in Evince since 2011 will still be unfixed in this version. There are more recent versions (like 3.6.1, if you look around) which have other problems (their installers don't install all the required files, for example).

  • 7
    Note: The latest release was in 2011.
    – Nicolas Raoul
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 11:24
  • 3
    +1 for GNU! (Evince is listed as Free Software for Windows)
    – Pandya
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 11:27
  • 1
    @NicolasRaoul, yes. But it works great. I use it when I have to open PDFs in Windows XP and Windows 7.
    – MV.
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 11:35
  • 1
    I've had trouble with it failing to render graphics when evince for Linux and Gimp on windows were both fine and Sumatra made a decent effort. Mind you, adobe reader rendered my valid file wrong and took 10 minutes to do so (1 page, 912 kB). The example was this LaTeX drawing (pdf linked on github in the comments). I've also had trouble with printing
    – Chris H
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 8:28
  • 2
    @MV. This might imply unpatched security holes. Better use Evince on GNU/Linux and something else on Windows.
    – user31389
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 15:06

Maybe you don't need one! (well duh you need, but maybe not as a separate program)

You may use software that is potentially already installed on your computer: the browsers Chromium (or Chrome, if you have the proprietary version) and Firefox are both open-source and able to display the vast majority of PDF files accurately.

Additionally Firefox is even known to run on Windows 98, so you certainly can use it and all its features on W7.

  • 2
    It's only unfortunate that Firefox appears to render/parse/load the entire PDF file prior to displaying it. If you have a big PDF this is not amusing.
    – Marc.2377
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 3:17
  • @Marc.2377 this doesnt seem to happen for me. How big is the file, and have you tried an equivalently big file from another source? Perhaps the file itself has some metadata to do that. I usually read books on FF, and those can go into the tens of MBs, but was never faced with this issue.
    – Kroltan
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 3:27
  • Maybe it has changed since, but I've had bad experiences with using Firefox for pdfs. For instance, it displayed some math symbols completely wrong, or yielded blurry printouts.
    – tomasz
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 3:31
  • But neither has a presentation mode.
    – Chris H
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 8:28
  • 1
    @ChrisH Anything wrong with using the Fullscreen button? At least in FF, it completely hides any interface elements and keeps just the PDF page in view, and you can navigate it with arrow keys. Chrome seems to keep a navigation bar of sorts visible.
    – Kroltan
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 12:04

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