In search of a lightweight PDF viewer to use on a netbook

Initially published on 2011-07-28.

Based on an IRC rant/conversation while trying out some of those. Under construction.

I am looking for a good PDF reader to use on a Lemote Yeeloong (which is a netbook with the Loongson2F 800 MHz MIPS CPU).

Tried all of the following (in alphabetical order, with my impressions):


  • A “PDF viewer with Vim-like behaviour”. Another one. At least this one seemed to support PageUp/PageDown (unlike zathura);
  • Despite minimalism, very slow:
    • 4 seconds to turn a page;
    • Lock-up (or many minutes) on trying to merely “zoom to window width”;


  • WHY on Earth enabling “Fullscreen” also automatically switches from “Fit width” to “Fit whole page”?!
    • …with no way to switch back: no pop-up menus or anything while in the Fullscreen mode;
    • Possible workaround: do not use the built-in Fullscreen mode, use Xfce4's universal Fullscreen mode via Alt+F11.
  • Scrolling around the document works OK, not jerky, pretty fast;
  • However loading the next page does take noticeable time;
  • No “continuous” display mode as far as I can tell.


  • Can't scroll around by left-clicking and dragging the document;
  • …this can't be configured, because nothing in GNOME is configurable and the GNOME devs know better what I need anyway;
  • “Fit Page Width” is broken in Continuous mode: only the first page is fitted as requested, the rest are not;
  • For some unknown reason after loading a PDF it starts with displaying the last page, not the first;
  • A lot slower than epdfview: scrolling is jerkier, “loading” the next page takes more time;
  • …so, deemed unusable just due to slowness alone;
  • Also, too many dependencies:
Need to get 16.3 MB/16.3 MB of archives.
After this operation, 39.0 MB of additional disk space will be used.


Seemed to lock-up on the Yeeloong. Nothing reacted to clicks (even the Xfce4 taskbar and other windows) until I killed mupdf from an ssh session from another machine.


# apt-get install okular
0 upgraded, 104 newly installed, 0 to remove and 1 not upgraded.
Need to get 93.2 MB of archives.
After this operation, 261 MB of additional disk space will be used.

I am not installing 261 megabytes of KDE crap just for one single program. Though admittedly on other machines where I do have Okular installed, I like it the most. It has every function I need (Fit width / Fit page / Continuous / Fullscreen) and they all work as expected.


  • Built on the ancient lesstif GUI toolkit;
  • Not too slow, scrolling is okay;
  • Shows the horizontal scrollbar at all times for no good reason (I already selected “Fit width”, so the whole document fits horizontally into the screen, no need for that scrollbar anymore! I suppose that's the toolkit limitation, it can't hide unneeded scrollbars).


  • Slow;
  • Way too basic, controlled only by hotkeys, and the default hotkeys are insufferable;
    • Shift+K/Shift-J as the only way to do the most frequently used operation in a PDF reader, namely to turn pages;
    • Someone please tell the author that there are keys labeled “Page Up” and “Page Down” on the freaking PC keyboards since maybe 1980s, and he should look into supporting those;
    • The man page tells us this can be 'configured' by editing “config.h”, which means getting the source code and recompiling the program just to redefine hotkeys. Seriously.

The winner so far

xpdf. Its worst problem is the rusty ancient-looking GUI toolkit and that horizontal scrollbar.

pdf-viewers.txt · Last modified: 2011-08-26 06:00 UTC by rm