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The Windows 8 PDF viewer has landed, welcome Windows Reader

February 29, 2012

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Microsoft has released the Windows 8 Consumer Preview and along with it comes Windows Reader, a built-in PDF viewer for Windows and other file types.

Windows Reader uses the new Metro-style interface and appears to be aimed at users of touch devices, but does work with PDFs opened from Windows Explorer as well.

Features in Windows Reader include:

  • View PDFs
  • Search
  • Select and Copy Text
  • Highlight Text and Add Notes
  • Rotate Pages
  • Info (metadata, permissions, pages, file size)
  • Page View Options (Continuous, One page, Two pages)
  • Bookmark Navigation
  • SkyDrive Integration

A built-in PDF viewer is something that Windows has been sorely lacking for a number of years now -- Mac OS X got a built-in PDF viewer in 2004 -- and so Windows Reader is a welcome addition to the core applications installed on the operating system.

However, Windows Reader is orientated more to being used on a touch device, rather than a desktop computer and as a result has numerous usability issues for desktop users partly related to the fact that a finger and a mouse interact with the screen in fundamentally different ways.

A user who is working in Windows Explorer and double-clicks a PDF will find that the PDF opens in full-screen metro-style mode and there is no way to change that. This makes quickly switching between folders in Windows Explorer and viewing PDFs in Windows Reader somewhat cumbersome. This sort of behavior is common on smart phones and tablets where screen space is limited, but is quite uncommon on the desktop.

Currently it is only possible to have one PDF open in Windows Reader at a time, making switching between PDFs a slow process. Presumably this is something Microsoft will improve upon in the next release.

Windows Reader is a great leap forward for PDF on Windows, but don't throw away your favorite PDF reader just yet if you aren't using a touch device, Windows Reader has some usability issues which Microsoft will have to resolve for the final Windows 8 release.

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