More and more often, I’m seeing more documents stored on the web in PDF format. One of the more obvious reasons for using PDF instead of something like plain text or even Microsoft’s .doc format, is that PDF can be read on any operating system, and will look the same no matter where it’s viewed. It can handle formatting and images, something that plain text lacks, and unlike Microsoft Word documents, which use a proprietary standard, PDF is an open standard that anyone can implement.
One of the problems many people have with PDF, however, have nothing to do with the format, but for the software to use that format. Adobe Reader is the most common software for reading PDF files, and it also includes a web browser plugin, so you can view the PDF right from the browser, without needing to download the file, then open it with a different program. You still need to download it, but don’t need to bother with opening Adobe Reader itself just to look at the PDF. Unfortunately, the Adobe Reader plugin is often very slow to load. Thankfully, there is a solution.
Google Docs is a popular online office suite which includes word processing, spreadsheets, charts, presentations and more, and part of that “more” is a very nice PDF reader. You can actually open any PDF in it, not just documents you’ve stored in your Google account. To do so, simply enter the following text:
After that, simply include the URL of the PDF file stored on the web. Let’s assume there is a PDF at this address that you want to view:
All you would do is put that URL behind the other, resulting in this:
What happens then is that Google Docs uses the second part of the URL, downloads it to the Google servers, and displays it using their PDF interface. It’s pretty great, and if you have a Google Docs account and are logged in, you can save the original to your account, so that it’s always available.
If you use the Google Chrome web browser, this is a built-in feature (although you’ll need to turn it on from the plugins page). Firefox users aren’t so lucky. Fortunately, an extension exists that makes it incredibly easy to view any web PDF in the Google Docs PDF viewer. The name of the extension is called Open PDF in Google Docs Viewer, and all you need to do is install it. Once installed, restart and from then on, whenever you encounter a PDF on the web, right-click it and at the bottom of the contextual menu you’ll see a new option to “Open PDF in Google Docs,” which does exactly what you’d expect.
In addition to being much faster than the Adobe Reader plugin, using Google Docs has one huge advantage. While Adobe Reader needs to first download the PDF to your computer and then display it (which can be slow if the PDF is large or your Internet connection is slow), the Google Docs PDF viewer method doesn’t work that way. The PDF doesn’t download to your hard drive, but is downloaded – by Google – to their servers. This will almost always be faster, and once it’s ready, you view it in your browser, one page at a time. If you want to save it to your hard drive when you’re finished previewing it, you can – and then the PDF will download. Or, simply save it to your Google Docs account.
This is a fantastic extension, and one that is immediately easy to use and very useful. It saves time and bandwidth, provides a better viewing experience (in my opinion), and is a lot easier on your computer’s processor and RAM than the Adobe Reader plugin. It doesn’t have any configuration, and it’s obvious right from the start how to use it. What could be better than that?