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Reading eBooks with Foxit Reader & Dropbox

Considerable number of eBooks and eJournals have become available during the last few years. They save not only trees and environment, but also time, space, money, and the effort of carrying physical books around. Reading novels from screen is beyond me, but for technical books, magazines and articles it makes sense. Such literature tends to become waste in just a few years.

Considering the amount of available material, the quality of available reading solutions is amazingly primitive. There’s a myriad of eBook formats, but PDF is still the universal de facto choice. If you use PDF, you don’t need to explain why. It just works and everyone can read it.

Maybe it’s because of the characteristics of PDF or just lack of creativity that the eBook industry has copied one of the worst features of a printed book, set by the physical reality: presenting the book in fixed-size, separate pages to be sequentially flipped through, instead of exploiting the possibilities of the electronic platform (a tremendous idea: how about dividing the book into chapters?) Granted, failing to exploit new possibilities is understandable, it’s new territory after all, but what’s not acceptable is that one of the best features of paper is left out: the ability to add your own notes and highlight markings there.

For effectively reading (studying) anything it’s definitely not enough to just stare at the text. You want to filter out all the irrelevant smalltalk and squeeze out what’s essential to you. You want to highlight important places and put notes and bookmarks all around the book. Of course you want to read the same annotated book at any location, not just on some specific computer — or worse, on some specific hardware appliance. All that on different operating systems. And preferably for free. AFAIK, there exists no such out of the box solution (as writing this in October 2009).

Regardless of the lack of innovation in eBook publisher circles, it’s possible to combine things yourself. This simple combination works for me:

  • Foxit Reader 3 for Windows. If you plan to use Linux + Wine, don’t take the most recent installer package, it doesn’t work. Instead, grab version 3.0 .zip package, build 1817 ( It contains a single executable requiring no installation ceremonies, and it also seems to work in Ubuntu under Wine just fine. (Note that while Foxit also offers a native Linux edition of the reader, it’s only version 1.1 and has no annotation capabilities.)

  • Dropbox account for storing the PDFs. Dropbox officially supports Windows, Linux, and OS X, and works like a dream.

Foxit Reader is one of the better Adobe Acrobat replacements, and it has especially good annotation capabilities. Simply highlight the important parts and add any notes you want, and they get embedded into the PDF. The free version contains some limitations, but spending $39 for the “Pro” license is not a bad investment.

Dropbox is a storage application and service that stores and syncs files online and between computers. It’s free for up to 2 GB of data, and for a modest monthly fee you get plenty of more space.

Now you’ll just annotate your PDFs with Foxit, and let Dropbox take care of keeping them in sync. I’ve been using this combo for some time now, and it just works.

About Foxit Reader and Wine

Wine is a compatibility layer that allows applications made for Microsoft Windows to run on Unix systems, like Linux. Most applications run on it, but not all. Foxit Reader 3.0 works with Wine. Version 3.1 crashes when opening a PDF file.
Wine Application Database on Foxit Reader

If you want to open your PDFs directly from Nautilus without having to first fire Foxit, follow these steps: Create the following script, save it somewhere (for instance, to the same place where your Foxit Reader.exe is) and make it executable (chmod u+x

/usr/bin/wine "/home/jpulakka/misc/foxit/Foxit Reader.exe" z:$1

Change the paths as appropriate. Then right-click a PDF file in Nautilus, pick “Open with Other Application → Use a custom command” and surf your script. To make Foxit your default PDF reader, right click a PDF file in Nautilus, choose “Properties → Open With” and select your script. Now all your PDFs will open with Foxit Reader running under Wine.


The need to annotate an electronic article/book and read it wherever you are using whichever device is so fundamental that the eBook vendors must be tackling an usable solution for this soon — usable meaning that it must not be limited to some specific hardware appliance or storage provider or operating system or book vendor. But meanwhile, we can solve our needs using creative combinations of third-party solutions :-)

Last modified: 2009-10-22 21:06 +0300

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