PDF files do not open in Internet Explorer with Adobe Reader 10.0 – users get an empty gray screen. How can I fix this for my users?

It’s been 4 months since asking this question, and I still haven’t found a good solution.
However, I did find a decent workaround, which I will share in case others have the same issue.
I will try to update this answer, too, if I make further progress.

First of all, my research has shown that there are several possible combinations of user-settings and site settings that cause a variety of PDF display issues. These include:

  • Broken version of Adobe Reader (10.0.*)
  • HTTPS site with Internet Explorer and the default setting “Don’t save encrypted files to disk”
  • Adobe Reader setting – disable “Display PDF files in my browser”
  • Slow hardware (thanks @ahochhaus)

I spent some time researching PDF display options at pdfobject.com, which is an EXCELLENT resource and I learned a lot.

The workaround I came up with is to embed the PDF file inside an empty HTML page. It is very simple: See some similar examples at pdfobject.com.

        <object data="/pdf/sample.pdf" type="application/pdf" height="100%" width="100%"></object>

However, here’s a list of caveats:

  • This ignores all user-preferences for PDFs – for example, I personally like PDFs to open in a stand-alone Adobe Reader, but that is ignored
  • This doesn’t work if you don’t have the Adobe Reader plugin installed/enabled, so I added a “Get Adobe Reader” section to the html, and a link to download the file, which usually gets completely hidden by the <object /> tag, … but …
  • In Internet Explorer, if the plugin fails to load, the empty object will still hide the “Get Adobe Reader” section, so I had to set the z-index to show it … but …
  • Google Chrome’s built-in PDF viewer also displays the “Get Adobe Reader” section on top of the PDF, so I had to do browser detection to determine whether to show the “Get Reader”.

This is a huge list of caveats. I believe it covers all the bases, but I am definitely not comfortable applying this to EVERY user (most of whom do not have an issue).
Therefore, we decided to ONLY do this embedded option if the user opts-in for it. On our PDF page, we have a section that says “Having trouble viewing PDFs?”, which lets you change your setting to “embedded”, and we store that setting in a cookie.
In our GetPDF Action, we look for the embed=true cookie. This determines whether we return the PDF file, or if we return a View of HTML with the embedded PDF.

Ugh. This was even less fun than writing IE6-compatible JavaScript.
I hope that others with the same problem can find comfort knowing that they’re not alone!

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