How do I set the Windows Explorer preview handler for PDFs to a different application than the default application used by the system?

karislove
karislove used Ask the Experts™
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Good Morning Experts,

I just rolled out a shiny new Windows Server 2016 Remote Desktop Session Host\Terminal Server and everything is working fine and all is right with the world.

Then the employees that handle PDFs all day started screaming.  Apparently, Adobe Acrobat DC as the preview handler for PDFs is a slow nightmare.  I have tested it and they are right.  It is horribly slow and near useless in the Windows Explorer preview window.  All the Google fu I could muster did not yield any solutions.

I have heard that the Foxit Reader is a good replacement for Adobe Reader in these situations.  I have tested it and it is very fast at rendering PDFs.

My question:

Can I set the default application for PDFs to Adobe Reader and the preview handler for Windows Explorer to Foxit?  If so, how?

Thoughts?

karislove
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Distinguished Expert 2018

Commented:
Did a quick test: latest Adobe reader DC and this: https://app.box.com/s/7zz5xcy048 (old foxit preview plugin) can be combined on win10, so most probably works on 2016, too. But old version of foxit, needs patching.
Distinguished Expert 2018

Commented:
If you decide to test that, rest assured it's an original foxit package, linked by the developer himself. For tests, I recommend test systems, anyway. That installer needs dotnet 2, which is included in the windows feature dotnet3.5, by the way.

Author

Commented:
McKnife,

Thanks for taking the time to work on this.  That is an interesting option.  However, it looks like development on that stopped almost 10 years ago.  http://timheuer.com/blog/archive/2008/05/09/foxit-pdf-preview-handler.aspx  I am certain I will not be allowed to put old code that cannot be patched onto the server.  I wish Tim had continued development.  That would have been sweet.

karislove
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Distinguished Expert 2018
Commented:
Understandable.

I tested with foxit reader, installed after adobe reader DC and it works as well. If you do a custom setup and de-select to set Foxit as pdf viewer, but install the pdf browser plugin, it will be used in windows file explorer as well.

Author

Commented:
Mcknife,

Yes.  I did that as well.  It is currently running on my W10 machine.  I have the default PDF viewer at Adobe but Windows Explorer is running Foxit.

The process was to install Foxit after Adobe Reader then manually set the system default application for PDFs to Adobe Reader.  For some reason the Foxit preview handler stayed resident as the default Windows Explorer PDF preview handler.  I don't really understand how that worked.

What is going to happen at the next update of Adobe Reader?  Will it reset the Windows Explorer preview handler to Adobe Reader?  Is there a way to make sure this can stay set to Foxit or manually set it to Foxit?

karisolve
Distinguished Expert 2018

Commented:
Don't know. Simulate it, download a lower version of Adobe Reader DC and set it up as you did before, then patch it.
Setups: ftp://ftp.adobe.com/pub/adobe/reader/win/AcrobatDC

Author

Commented:
McKnife,

I really respect and appreciate that you are trying to solve the immediate problem with a different approach.  I am grateful.  I might even end up implementing that solution.  However, that is not really the original intent of this question.  I would like to know if there is a way to set the Windows Explorer PDF preview handler to something other than the system default application for PDFs.

karislove
Distinguished Expert 2018

Commented:
Understood. Install a different viewer and see if it works out. With foxit, it does and you don't have to set anything other than install one after the other.

This cannot be set in explorer.

Author

Commented:
McKnife,

Sorry for the long delay.  Ya know...stuff.  Anyway, the solution seems to be (at least on a 2016 RDS server) to install Adobe Reader and set it as the system default.  Then install the Foxit reader and deselect all the options but the main program and the handler.  The Foxit installer will override the preview handler in Windows Explorer and set itself as the preview handler while leaving the system default alone.  This will allow you to open PDFs in Adobe Reader but preview them with Foxit.

The only issue is that when Adobe Reader updates it will override Foxit and reset the preview handler.  The solution is to uninstall Foxit and reinstall it as before.  This will reset the preview handler to Foxit until the next Adobe Reader update.

Now, we can only hope that some day Adobe redesigns that bloated mess of a PDF reader.

I appreciate all your assistance.  Thanks.
Distinguished Expert 2018

Commented:
Welcome.

I have to say, I don't use the preview a lot, but when I do (just did) I cannot say that Acrobat Reader DC is slow. Not really.

Author

Commented:
McKnife,

Go to a folder with a long list of PDFs.  Select the first PDF in the list then use your arrow key to move down and watch how long it takes to render as you move from one PDF to the next.  Now, compare that to the Foxit reader.  For those that work with PDFs all day the difference is drastic.

karislove
Distinguished Expert 2018

Commented:
Tell me, how big are those PDFs (on average) and how long does it take you to go through 10 of them that way. And how fast is that storage (LAN? GBit? Local SSD?).

Author

Commented:
McKnife,

Smaller PDFs render faster but not nearly as fast as with Foxit.  The RDS server is using a local SSD array.  My laptop is using a PCIe ssd.  The performance difference between Adobe Reader and Foxit is demonstrable on both machines.  Run the test.  You will see for yourself.  If you need to view and sort hundreds of PDFs every day the difference is substantial.

karislove
Distinguished Expert 2018

Commented:
Ok, I have no doubt that there will be a difference, but I don't care for a difference of half a second per document (AR DC takes less than a second here to preview a networked  (GBit) 0,5 MB document). That's why I tried to talk numbers :-)

Author

Commented:
McKnife,

I had the same opinion at first.  However, once I saw what they were trying to do I understood why Adobe Reader DC was a step backwards from Adobe Reader X.  Their use case was simply different than mine.  When you see the speed at which these folks move through the system you will understand why half a second to render a PDF is an issue.  Also, because of the speed at which the users were moving the Adobe Reader was not working correctly.  They would cycle down a list of PDFs and land on one they want to rename or categorize.  However, since Adobe was rendering so slowly the preview handler was actually showing them the preview from 3 or 4 files up in the list.  It wasn't showing them the preview for the file they were currently working with.  They would already be moving the file or renaming it when the final render presented and then they would have to undo the changes they just made or they would never know their error and incorrectly categorize the file.  Foxit is simply the superior tool for their requirements because it renders PDFs much faster and doesn't have the issues of Adobe Reader DC.

Thanks,
karislove
Distinguished Expert 2018

Commented:
I see.

Let's hope that Foxit stays slim.

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