back to article FSFE calls on governments to stop pushing Adobe Reader

Free software and open standards advocates are encouraging web users to put pressure on governments not to 'advertise' proprietary Adobe software as a tool for reading documents created in PDF format. Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) is asking users to conduct a month-long 'hunt' for examples of what it says is the …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Surely this is just churlishness?

    Adobe create a popular and useful format and give the reader away free. What is wrong with giving them free advertisement for their free product in return?

    Looks like a waste of effort that could be better placed elsewhere, like trying to get institutions to move away from reliance on proprietary MS office formats and the like.

    1. Joe Montana

      Dangers of monoculture

      Many people are completely unaware that PDF is an open format. They think it's a proprietary format and that they must use the Adobe tools to open it. I have even seen Mac users install adobe reader, despite the fact that OSX includes a far better PDF reader by default...

      Because adobe reader has such a large install base, it becomes a very attractive target for malware and this malware often gets inappropriately blamed on the PDF format itself.

      Now that the browser market has more competition, exploits targeting web browsers are far less common... If you target a single browser, you can maybe hit 50% of targets these days, if you target adobe reader you can hit 95% of targets instead.

      Introducing more diversity into the PDF reader market is good for everyone (except malware distributors).

      1. JRallo

        Worse yet!

        When crappy forms from crappy banks check the name of the reader with JS before loading a PDF! If Adobe isn't in the name, the pdf doesn't load.

  2. Alexander Hanff 1

    Not to mention the security risks

    I can't recall a week in recent months where Adobe Acrobat has not been in the tech news for a zero day vulnerability, in fact I read an article just a couple of weeks ago which stated Acrobat is currently leading this year on the most security vulnerabilities if I remember correctly.

  3. Anonymous Coward

    I wish they wouldn't use bloody PDFs at all

    My local council started offering news by e-mail in various selectable categories, which I thought would be very useful (though not quite as good as an RSS feed) until I found out that the e-mails are just links to PDFs on the Web. I am not their marketing dept and don't need a precise layout for printing. This is a pain with the extra clicks and means I can't read it as part of my offline mail.

  4. Semaj


    So what are they meant to do, link to every PDF reader and confuse the users or just not tell them at all so they'll not be arsed to get the information at all? (Though they'll probably ring up instead so some phone monkey at the council will have to answer, meaning they are more busy so more public money is wasted hiring more staff.)

    Or maybe they should all just put a randomized link on every page where a PDF reader is mentioned, meaning they have to hire web developers with more technical knowledge than just layout, meaning more expense is incurred in making and maintaining these sites?

    Normal people don't CARE what PDF reader they use, they just want it to work. Anyone who cares will be able to find an alternative as I (and no doubt he) has done.

    Troll because this guy is clearly just trying to cause arguments for the sake of it.

    1. Rob

      I agree...

      ... yet another example of why Open Source has been adopted so slowly by the general populace, those Open Source advocates don't understand the general public and what they want/care about.

      1. Chevy


        The general public are, on the whole, ignorant retards. They need organisations like this to protect them. If you can't see why pushing Adobe Reader ain't the best idea then you're one of the people mentioned in my first sentence ;)

        1. Jason Bloomberg

          I agree with the disagree ( in part)

          It's only right that people should be made aware of alternatives and not led into thinking there is only one application which must be used with that impression forever perpetuated. "Ignorant" I'd agree with, "retards", no.

          However, people should be made aware of *all* available alternatives, proprietary and open source, and allowed to make their choice. Otherwise it's still pushing people in a particular direction, favouring one model over another.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Thumb Down

          Yes they are morons!

          I don't need people contacting me saying "how do I open your files with ZippoPDFLite v4.7?"

          It's enough to get people to understand the (relatively stable) Adobe product without adding to the mix....

  5. Adrian Challinor

    Nice idea - flawed assumptions

    It is all very well saying that there are FOSS alternatives to Acrobat Reader. This is true if all you want to do is read a document.

    I have several forms, some of which I need to send back to gubbermint departments (ok, the licensed bandits called HMRC since you ask). This use forms within the PDF document which requires a java script enabled reader.

    Acrobat Reader works. I have not found a FOSS alternative (eg, evince) that actually does the work.

    So, even as a strong supporter of FOSS, it is essential that you have the tools that do the same job. Sometimes being free (well, even Acrobat Reader is free) and open source, it does not make it better.

    Mines the one with the tax return in the pocket

    1. Apocalypse Later

      Foxit Reader

      I can fill in tax forms with the free Foxit reader.

      1. King Edward I


        Is free, but not FOSS :P

      2. vic 4
        Thumb Down

        Foxit Reader has the same problem as Adobe Reader

        It's free as in zero cost, but not Free, and just like Adobe the remainder of the suite involves shelling out for.

    2. Ben Tasker Silver badge


      OK, I don't think there's a Windows version, but Okular is FOSS and I can fill out forms from HRMC fine.

      Foxit does pretty much everything on Windows (though I can't remember if I ever used forms in it)

      Beer, cos I want a nice cold one

    3. Conrad Longmore

      Who are these people?

      Who are these people? You know, the ones that decide that a Javascript-in-PDF approach is actually a good solution to anything?

      I turned Javascript in Acrobat off across the whole organisation months ago. Good riddance to it.

      1. vic 4

        These people are the HM Revenue & Customs

        So if you are legally required to do a tax return you have no choice (assuming getting a huge fine and possible jail sentence is not a choice)

  6. David Pollard

    Remember the lawyer from Lima?

    David Villanueva Nuñez.tried for a while to make the use of Open Source software mandatory in all government departments in Peru. The arguments he advanced in a letter to Microsott are quite compelling.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    So essentially, the free software foundation is complaining about people, governments etc, promoting free software?

    1. vic 4
      Thumb Down

      free != Free

      There is more to being free than incurring cost

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Are they going to go after google too?

    Type in a google search for "how to open pdf files" which would be a basic phrase someone would type in if they were unfamiliar with PDF files, and what do you get?

    Nearly every link (not counting sponsored links) is to adobe, sites telling people to go to adobe, or directions on how to get firefox to read PDF files.

    1. Paul M 1

      not again...

      Can you really, really not see the difference between a commercial entity listing Adobe as a popular search term and a government organisation exclusively promoting Adobe?

    2. Tim Bates

      Try again...

      Go to Google and type in "PDF reader"... Result:





      Wikipedia article entitled "List of PDF Software"

      I think the biggest problem here is whether governments should be directing people to Google - That too would be advertising a corporation...

  9. Ally J

    I blame the government!

    Or, more seriously, the slow-moving tribe of clowns who judge what's fit to use on government systems and what isn't. The apparatchiks producing the PDFs are having to work from a relatively small pool of approved software, one of which is Adobe's PDF reader. They probably don't feel confident recommending something else which they haven't used, and won't be able to use without requesting permission in a series of interminable memos. (I know of what I speak, sad to say.)

    If's website recommends a PDF reader which doesn't work, there'll be howls of outrage from everyone at what a load of numbskulls they are. So rather than face the hootis of derision, they stick with what they know, which is what the clowns above them have judged to be 'safe'.

    Cut out and keep this rant for when the press release comes out about government web sites not working with non-IE browsers.

  10. Velv

    Security Implications

    Websites should not be suggesting any particular tool simply because of the security risk that tool might present.

    Adobe Acrobat is widely known to be riddled with security flaws, and it is only a matter of time before a MAJOR security incident occurs through the widespread use of Adobe.

  11. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Cant they use computer technology for a change

    and not typewriter technology for computers?

  12. OSC

    Tricky, this one...

    PDF is an ISO format that is actually used. And Adobe made that happen.

    I'm sort of there with Lee, in that a better target would be to get governments to use ISO formats only, the get out of jail card for Microsoft is 29500 transitional (.doc to you and me) and certainly not .docx which is not 29500 compliant.

    OTOH in general terms, governments should not be promoting one company's product over another.

    I use Okular, a universal document reader, but then I use KDE. It would be possible, I imagine, for governments to bundle that with the necessary libraries so it installed on MS Windows or Apple. They wouldn't even need to call it Okular.

    But given that Adobe Reader is freely available for all OSes, it's hardly a barrier to people exploring an alternative OS to the incumbent. (and then discovering Okular, or the Gnome equivalent, or all the other ones)

  13. Stuart Tomlinson


    they must be able to offer a link with foxit et all as an alernative. Stopped using reader a while back due to it running like a dog on terminal servers and have stuck with foxit since as its quick and fast and not had any formting issues with it.

  14. JaitcH

    Best Viewed using ...

    There is little difference in the principle of recommending a web site be viewed using some old browser - some still recommend IE6, which likely such a web site contains dated material.

    What web sites recommend is really their business but a link pointing to a free reader should be sufficient, even if the freebie is from Adobe.

    An alternative would be to provide a Google link that searches for freebies.

    1. TerryAcky


      "An alternative would be to provide a Google link..."

      But then you are only linking to one search engine, surely - for balance and impartiality - you should also provide a link an alternative search engine? ;o)

  15. James Pickett


    For a reader, the Adobe version is seriously bloated. I notice that the most popular version on is v.5, which is a whole lot smaller. Not as small as Foxit though...

  16. Anonymous Coward


    But I thought that FSFE were in favour of free software.

    Yes, I know, I'm getting it.

  17. Anonymous Coward

    Acrobat? more like Elephant!

    Recently had to look at someones older lap top which they said was grinding to a halt each time they opened a PDF. I wondered why Adobe was in there when I had deliberately loaded Foxit when I did a clean install earlier this year for the simple reason that it is a smaller less system hungry alternative to the main player in this area.

    Turns out they installed Adobes bloatware "because the site said I needed it to open the file". Once I had ripped out Adobe the machine now runs fine again. For what it does.. Acrobat is too resource hungry and as others have pointed out - it seems to have more than its fair share of vulnerabilities

  18. Shadowthrone

    Programs and the General public

    How many of the advocates pushing for change have spent time actually on the ground dealing with the general public in an I.T. Support capacity? Personally I have, for 7 long hard torturous years. As a rule of thumb, Joe Public is about as I.T. literate as a wet lettuce. Comments like "My Internet is broken" or "I am trying to download the Internet" or "I cannot get Windows to work"(when it is an individual application that is not working, or more they are not doing it right) are rife. Trying to explain to these people the difference between Adobe(yes, they think that is the product) and a PDF(the type of document, don't even begin to try and explain standards) is just not worth the headache.

    This initiative is a pointless waste of time as the users who actually care about using different Free PDF readers are already using them. You will not convince Joe Public to use them. Why you might ask?

    1) It is something New and different - Joe Public does not like change

    2) Installing a new program on their PC which they can barely use as it stands - This will just put added stress on any customer support/tech support team for the Document Owner.

    3) As long as it still costs them no money to use, Joe Public does not give a damn about the in-fighting on the Internet that goes on between open and propriety standards groups. The live by the KISS school; "Keep It Simple, Stupid".

  19. Anonymous Coward


    I sit on both sides of the fence daily, using both FOSS and proprietary - and I wouldn't have it any other way. I use the environments and tools that my clients feel most comfortable with. If my clients want to hear about choice I tell them, if they don't - I won't. I am not an evangelist for either open or proprietary. Both have their strengths as they both have their weakenesses.

    Karsten Gerloff, says, "Every time that state websites link to non-free applications and encourage visitors to use them, they needlessly encourage citizens to throw away their freedom". The problem I have with *some* FOSS advocates (not necessarily Karsten) is that, given the chance, they would love to remove my absolute freedom to choose by dictating that FOSS offerings should be the *only* option. To such FOSS bigots I say a big 'bollocks, just as I say 'bollocks' to proprietary bigots.

    At the end of the day, if the uptake for certain FOSS offerings is somewhat low that would indicate 1 (or both) of 2 things; (1) The alternative is shite (and yes, there is some real open source shit out there, just as there is some awful proprietary shit), (2) That marketing is poor.

    I agree however that government sites should offer alternatives. A fair place to start would be one FOSS offering for each proprietary offering. But let's not forget there are countless open souce applications out there that are poorly written and are not particularly security or performance conscious, just as there are proprietary.

    Alternatives should be given, but only where such alternatives are truly fit for purpose and not just because they are FOSS.

    Flame away ;o)

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    sumatra pdf reader

    'nuff said.

  21. xj25vm


    "The general public are, on the whole, ignorant retards."

    The commentard above has summed up pretty well the smell of these sort of initiatives. I'm a big fan of FOSS - and I use pretty much only FOSS in what I do whenever possible. But there was a time when FOSS meant having a more choice, and freedom, and being allowed to do what you wanted with the software. Part of that was also "live and let live" type of attitude. These people make it sound more like "You will have our free software, or else...." Not the sort of FOSS spirit I would ever support.

  22. Mr. Ed

    No, I wouldn't expect to see the "Volkswagon Necessary" sign...

    ... especially if the automobile hadn't been invented yet.

    If you want to pretend that Adobe doesn't exist (or have a right to), be consistent and stop using their invention. Some of us remember the days before portable documents and are mighty appreciative of them. You could be looking at typewriter text.

    This is the same fallacy that drives socialism -- the failure to comprehend that before you can redistribute wealth, someone has to create it.

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