Nitro vs. Adobe
Nitro vs. Adobe
The challenge: Give customers something free, upgrade them, and avoid getting crushed by the big guys.

What they did: Many small businesses want to go paperless. But those same businesses have no desire to dole out a lot of money for the software to switch to PDF documents that they can edit, among other things. Nitro's founding team, which formerly made add-on products for Adobe Acrobat, came up with a free alternative called Nitro Reader. The downloadable software lets users create PDF files from other formats, as well as mark up and add text to them. (Acrobat Reader doesn't offer those functions directly.) CEO Sam Chandler says his company has 5 million active users now; it makes money by offering a souped-up version of the program called Nitro Pro. The business, he says, is profitable, with sales of $13 million last year.

This article is from the February 27, 2012 issue of Fortune.
By Elaine Pofeldt, contributor @FortuneMagazine - Last updated February 22 2012: 7:06 AM ET
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