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Adobe has released a new beta version of its Acrobat Reader, the program to view the universal file format PDF. Acrobat Reader 7.0 - not publicly available yet - is likely to appear with a major update of the Acrobat document management software, dubbed "Acrobat X", by the end of the year.

The 18MB program contains a couple of new features: you now can fill in forms, sign documents, participate in email and browser-based document reviews, and attach other PDF and non PDF files to a PDF document. Acrobat Reader 7.0 will also automatically download updates in the background.

With over 700 million (Adobe) PDF viewers distributed around the world, most companies tend to publish in PDF, rather than in Word. But the program has its critics, who complain about application load-up times. This is because many plug-ins are loaded into memory when Acrobat Reader starts up. Also, when you use Acrobat Reader (6.0) to open a PDF file in a web page and you later close the web page or click on the "Back" button, Acroread.exe often stays in memory for hours. According to some reports, it eats up about 40MB of RAM.

MacOS X users can bypass Acrobat Reader altogether as MacOS X uses the PDF format within the operating system itself. Only a small viewer is needed to read PDF files.

There are some PDF reader-lite options for Windows users too. A developer from the UK recently created a free application to speed up loading time of Acrobat Reader. Many of the features turned off by the program in Acrobat Reader aren't needed, the developer says. Also, check out the newly released Foxit PDF Reader. It is compact (less than 1MB) and loads up quickly. Don't want to install any application? Use this spartan, but functional online viewer. ®

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