PDF In-Depth

Using Mac OS X Preview Application for PDF Lite

February 17, 2005

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Mac OS X comes with an excellent PDF viewer built in. The Preview application is a fast, simple viewer. It doesn't have all the bells and whistles of even Adobe Reader, but it uses a lot less overhead. Best of all, it's fast.

With Preview, you can view PDFs at various magnifications, zoom in and out, and rotate pages. Like other viewers it has a scroll tool (the little grabby hand), a text tool that allows you to select text for copying, and a select tool, that allows you to draw a box around an area -- (this tool selects the area on the page rather than the text itself, and when you copy it, it copies an image rather than text).

The navigation tools are also simple -- page up, page down, and page number. Page up and page down simply take you to the previous or next page in the document. The page number box on the toolbar tells you what page you are on, but you can also put your cursor in the box and type in a page number to jump directly to that page. This is particularly useful if you have a citation that you're trying to get to. The Back/Forward controls work like the "View" buttons in Reader or the forward/back buttons in a web browser -- it takes you to whatever page you were last on, rather than the next sequential page in the document. Helpful if you are jumping between pages -- say following a text search -- rather than scrolling sequentially. A warning -- so far, I haven't been successful making this command work for jumping between documents, as you can do in Reader. At this time, Preview seems to be a one-doc-at-a-time application.

The most unique part of Preview is the Drawer. As with many current Mac apps, the drawer slides out the side of the window and presents the user a number of options. As with Adobe Reader, you can navigate via Bookmarks (if the document has them), or view and jump with thumbnail images.

At the top of the drawer is the Search field -- and this is where Preview really shines. It's fast. It is also incremental, so with each letter you type you'll see your list change and narrow. You can then jump directly to your hits by clicking on the snippets in the drawer. Get directly to the pages you've visited with the Back/Forward buttons.

Preview's is a very simple search mechanism -- it simply looks for strings of characters. In many cases, that is enough. You can search for more than a single word -- say a first and last name -- by just typing in the search box. You're not going to be doing boolean searches on your text, but the search is really is fast, and is very good for rapidly finding text in your document.

Finally, there is the metadata. Although the "Get Info" command in the Preview application menu yields little , when you are in the Finder and use the same command, you get the familiar file Info window. There's a lot there, including a comments field, as well as security settings. In the next version of OS X, 10.4 "Tiger," Apple promises that the Spotlight technology will allow sophisticated searching of files and metadata. At that point, by using the comments field, and other elements of the operating system, Preview could become a significant part of a PDF legal workflow.

This piece originally appeared on PDFforLawyers.com, and has been reproduced with permission.

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