One of the most recurrently popular posts I've written was on Real Alternative, an application that is infinitely more tolerable than Real's official player when one has to endure a RealAudio or Video presentation.
In the same vein, I thought it would make sense to remind everyone of a similarly useful utility that, while not really a secret, is extraordinarily helpful in easing the pain of opening up Acrobat PDF files, Adobe Reader SpeedUp.
Sometime in the past few years, around when they inexplicably renamed Acrobat Reader to Adobe Reader, the good folks at Adobe made the application slow to a crawl when starting up. This problem is even more intolerable if you use the default settings on Windows and have PDF files load within the Internet Explorer browser as an embedded document. (Mac users: Yes, yes, I know OS X's built-in PDF reader is speedy. Don't care.)
Enter Reader SpeedUp. It's a simple little utility, and the steps it performs are ones you can do manually, but why bother? Essentially, Reader loads a huge number of plugins at startup, to enable all kinds of powerful and obscure functionality that nobody really takes advantage of except probably some giant insurance company's intranet. But since none of us use that for regular PDFs on the web, it can safely be disabled without causing any harm.
Like Real Alternative, SpeedUp doesn't even have a proper download page, it just lives on the site of the fellow who develops it. But if you're working with PDFs on Windows, it can make your experience a lot more pleasant.
Interestingly, Adobe's feature bloat and performance issues have opened up an opportunity for competitors, notably Macromedia's FlashPaper. Basically, Macromedia's tried to take advantage of the ubiquity of the Flash player to make a really lightweight formatted page display format that can let you make high-fidelity print copies of information without having a huge loadup time and while being able to embed the page within a regular HTML document.
Adobe Reader seems to be headed the other way, taking advantage of its ubiquity to start bundling the Yahoo Toolbar, indicating that they're headed towards making the application even bigger. I smell Adobe Reader Suite 2006.
But back to FlashPaper. I'm curious what the constraints are on the product's design. How does Macromedia plan to fight the demands for feature bloat? The primary selling point, despite all the benefits Macromedia lists, is that it's faster than Acrobat. Users are going to keep demanding "just one more little thing" until that's no longer true. FlashPaper might become a success despite its status as a relative unknown right now, but as the iPod demonstrates, fighting complexity on a product that's defined by its simplicity is a difficult struggle over time.