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A fail: Foxit PDF Reader for Linux

The project is to build a Linux Mint machine to have the identical functionality and ergonomics as the existing Windows 10 machine. This stage relates to reading and annotating PDF files.

Environment & required functionality

PDF files need to be read on the following machines:
  • The Linux Mint Xfce 18.3 laptop "Gandalf";
  • The Windows 10 laptop "Legolas".
The synchronisation agent is Google Drive in Windows 10, and grive2 in Linux Mint.

Alternatives

There are two main PDF readers: Adobe and Foxit.

Adobe's PDF reader is terrible in Windows: it's slow bloatware, grossly inefficient, used (badly) by governments and is so mouse-obsessed that it is unusable in the hands of a power/keyboard user.  That leaves Foxit, which works well in Windows, and is fairly fluent for the keyboard/power user.

There are loads of alternatives to Foxit PDF Reader, from two sources alone:
However, the choice is false.  Everybody seems to have a simple PDF viewer that just presents the PDF as a dead file for reading on-screen.  But this isn't enough.  The functionality that the user requires is reading and annotating.  The software must ape the human reaction to paper.  Have paper with words on it, get pencil/red pen, scribble all over it.  That's why the user needs annotations.

The devil is in the detail of the sales pitch.  As seems to be quite noticeable from the community, software mis-selling is endemic.

The basic function of annotations seems to be as rare as excrement from a rocking horse.  And what functionality might be promised on a sales screen ain't necessarily what the machine downloads and runs.

And then there is the problem of how to use a PDF reader.  On paper, just turn the page over, dead simple.  But unless there is keyboard fluency throughout the app, then the turning of the page is a death pain by mouse-click.  No sales pitch points to this basic functionality.

The process of finding what should be a really basic and simple piece of software turns out to have so many points of failure that picking the most appropriate software is harder than picking the winning numbers in a lottery.

Software selection

It turns out that Foxit PDF Reader has had an edition for Linux since 2015.  As Foxit PDF Reader works on Windows, this is obvious choice for software to test.

Installation experience

Downloaded from https://www.foxitsoftware.com/pdf-reader/ as if a Windows app.  Website identified browser originating from a machine of Linux x64  Downloaded as tar.gz.

The vendor (Foxit Software) set out installation instructions, which are broadly the same as those listed by https://www.linuxbabe.com/desktop-linux/install-foxit-pdf-reader-ubuntu-16-04.
  • log into Gandalf as the admin user;
  • download the tar.gz file;
  • use the archive manager to extract the .run file;
  • contrary to the instructions, the file permissions did not need changing: Gandalf's Thunar File Manager confirmed that the file already had permissions to run;
  • rather than use the GUI to execute the executable .run file, use the CLI in the administrator account to run the .run file with the root privilege sudo.   This makes the app available to all users on Gandalf, which includes the non-admin user who has all the Google Drive data grived to it.
administrator@GANDALF ~ $ sudo /home/administrator/Downloads/foxit.run
  • installed to the folder "/opt" as recommended by linuxbabe's instructions.
There is no no formal repository for Foxit Software.

The installation was straight forward, even though it involved more steps than would be expected for Windows.

The message is clear: you need to be more technical with Linux than you do with Windows.

User experience

Foxit PDF Reader v2.4.1.0609 of 2017 works on Gandalf!

The menus feature an old, large clunky font, but it works!

But there is one major limitation in this edition of Foxit PDF Reader that makes it viable to look for alternatives or consider installing Mono/Wine to run the Windows version of Foxit PDF Reader: too limited keyboard use.  This is a stupid development decision by Foxit.

Common to both Windows and Linux editions is the impossibility of accessing the window's control menu (ALT+SPACE in Windows, ALT+F10 in Linux).  Foxit has gone out of its way to disable that keyboard access, contrary to the standard defined in each desktop environment.  Stupid.

Foxit retained keyboard access to the ribbon commands in Windows, but has apparently disabled keyboard access to the menus in Linux.  Keyboard shortcuts are available in both Windows and Linux - e.g. CTRL+O opens the "open file" dialogue box, CTRL+W closes the current tab/file - but in Linux, ALT+F does not launch the File menu.  Stupid.

When a document is open, Foxit PDF has the same functionality in both editions and reads/understands the annotations created by each edition.  An edit/annotation in the Windows editions successfully synchronises via Google/Grive between the platforms and the Linux edition picks up the edit/annotation (and vice versa).

But even here, Foxit PDF Reader has gone out of its way to cripple the competent user.  In Windows, keys ←↑→↓ PgUp and PgDn all have a useful function; in Linux, only PgUp and PgDn work.  Similarly, for zooming - a really basic functionality for any PDF reader - CTRL+1, +2 and +0 all work in Windows, but have no effect in Linux.

So the fact that Foxit PDF Reader for Linux has all the annotation functionality that appears in Windows is irrelevant: the user cannot get past the sheer pain of being coerced into using the poxy mouse for the simple process of zoom and navigation.

The net result is that Foxit PDF Reader is substantially unusable for the power user in the app's native Linux edition.  The only users who could use Foxit PDF Reader Linux edition are simplistic morons who have yet to evolve beyond a mouse (and, let's be frank, probably struggle to read real words anyway).  Adults who need to be productive, and quickly, would need to use a mouse-less alternative.

Conclusion

Foxit PDF Reader for Linux had all the promise of being usable.  Alas, it turned out to be a false promise.  The app was intended to have all the functionality that a competent user needs and this marks Foxit PDF Reader for Linux as the Reader that meets the most elementary of needs for any user who reads anything on-screen.

But Foxit has gone out of its way to cripple the keyboard user, resulting in an app that is functionally useless.  The user cannot easily navigate through the document.  The pain of the mouse is just too great to persist with the app.  The intended functionality was intentionally crippled to be inaccessible.

So, in Linux, either Foxit PDF Reader is run in its Windows edition over translation layers Mono/Wine/Crossover, or Foxit PDF is dumped in favour of an alternative app that addresses the problems that Foxit PDF Linux edition dumps onto the user.

Regrettably, shockingly, Foxit PDF Reader for Linux counts as a FAIL on this project.

Epilogue

The next steps are:
  • to test at least one alternative to Foxit PDF Reader Linux edition;
  • to test Foxit PDF Reader for Windows on Linux via Mono/Wine/Crossover.
Test completed in May 2018.

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