One of the features of Google’s Chrome browser that is rather nice is the built-in viewer for documents in Adobe’s Portable Document Format [PDF]. The PDF format is very widely used for distributing documents, since Adobe has always made its Reader (previously Acrobat Reader) software available at no cost, and has published the PDF specification (although it is still owned and controlled by Adobe). Thus, a PDF document can be read by just about anyone, regardless of the particular platform they are using.
There are downsides to using PDFs, though. Because they are widely used, across platforms, they have become a popular attack target for the Bad Guys, and there have been many instances of security vulnerabilities. This has happened, at least in part, because the traditional method of accessing PDFs has been via Adobe’s Reader, and its associated browser plug-in. Reader is a very large program with tons of features — it can, for example, display documents with embedded Flash video, and is used by the US Internal Revenue Service for downloadable, “fill in the blank” tax forms — most of which are not used in typical reports or articles. That complexity presents a large attack surface to probe for security holes; it also makes Reader a rather lumbering beast. Having to keep up with a separate patching and update process for Reader and the browser plug-in is also something of a nuisance.
One of the recommended mitigations for all this has been to use an alternative PD F viewer for routine tasks. For Windows, there is Foxit Reader; Linux users can use the very small and speedy xpdf. The built-in reader in Chrome is another choice. Now, according to an article posted at Geek.com, an early version of a similar built-in PDF reader for Mozilla’s Firefox is available. The Mozilla viewer has some distinctive features:
- It is entirely open source (unlike the Chrome reader, which apparently incorporates some code from Foxit)
- Its feature set, like the Chrome reader, is not as complete as Adobe Reader’s, but will be suitable for routine documents
- The development project is also open, and documented at the PDF.js page on MozillaWiki.
This, it seems to me, is a very worthwhile development, giving Firefox users a simple, free, and open alternative.