What Is Adobe Reader?

By Chris Blank

Adobe Reader makes it possible to share documents across a number of computers. Available as a free download, it is available for all computer users who have Internet access. Many websites allow users to download documents which can be accessed by Adobe Reader. This allows websites to avoid the need to post multiple versions of a document for various software programs and operating systems (OS).

What is PDF?

Adobe Reader allows computer users to open and read documents saved in the Portable Document Format (PDF). PDF documents are accessible in PC, Mac and Unix OS platforms. PDF documents can also be accessed by a number of mobile programs used in "smart" phones.

Reader vs Acrobat

Adobe Reader and Adobe Acrobat are both products of the same company. Both programs allow users to access PDF documents. However, as a free and open source program, Adobe Reader has more limited capabilities, restricted to allowing users to view documents, with limited capabilities to actually change or create documents. Adobe Acrobat, which is a paid program, has full functionality, and allows users to manipulate and create PDF documents.

Reader vs Word or Word Perfect

Documents created in Word or WordPerfect can only be accessed by computers with those programs installed. Also, a computer with an older version of Word or WordPerfect will often not open a document created with a newer version of either product. Finally, documents may be altered in appearance when they are transferred across machines, with changes in format, margins, fonts and other changes.With Adobe Reader, the appearance of the document is the same, no matter which computer it is displayed in. Also, a PDF document created on a PC can be opened by Adobe Reader for Mac, and vice versa. While some documents created wtih a newer version of Adobe Reader may not be fully accessible with older versions, they can generally be opened and read. Since Adobe Reader is a free program, it is also easy to obtain the updated version if necessary.

Multimedia Playback

Adobe Reader 9 has added the ability to playback multimedia files. Multimedia files are usually played back by programs such as RealPlayer, QuickTime, Flash or Windows Media. This feature allows multimedia files which are embedded in PDF documents to be played within Adobe Reader, rather than by opening another program.

Accessibility Features

Adobe Reader also allows users with disabilities to access PDF files. One feature is the "read aloud" function, which reads the words of a document for the visually impaired. These features are available in Adobe Reader, whether the actual document has been optimized for accessibility or not.