Outwit PDF annoyances

From downloadable tax forms to your company’s online medical forms, Adobe’s Portable Document Format (PDF) files are everywhere. And that’s no surprise: PDFs preserve a document’s look, and you can open them on any computer. But PDF files—and the applications and utilities that generate and read them—can be confusing. I’ll shed light on some commonly confounding PDF issues.

Control PDFs in Safari

As of Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger), when you access a Web-based PDF file, it opens in Safari’s browser window rather than downloading to your desktop or opening in Preview. But how do you navigate through these documents?

Control-clicking on the displayed PDF reveals there’s more here than meets the eye. From the contextual menu you can open the PDF in your Mac’s default PDF reader (Preview), zoom in and out, view the PDF as a single page or as facing pages, and jump to the next or previous page (see top screenshot).

Add Options with Reader If you want greater control over the PDF files displayed in your browser window, you may wish to install Adobe’s free Acrobat Reader. It includes AdobePDFViewer.plugin, an Internet plug-in that lets Safari users view PDF files with Adobe’s more feature-rich PDF viewer. This viewer adds a toolbar to Safari that not only provides zoom controls that don’t require the control key, but also lets you search a document—a real boon when you’re looking for a specific piece of information.

If the plug-in doesn’t seem to work, quit Safari and Acrobat Reader, navigate to /Library/Internet Plug-Ins, and remove AdobePDFViewer.plugin. Launch Acrobat Reader 7 and choose Help: Detect And Repair. In the Select Components And Repair dialog box that appears, you’ll see a checked Adobe PDFViewer option. Click on the Continue button and Acrobat Reader will install a fresh copy. Adobe Acrobat 7.0 Standard and Professional ($299 and $449, respectively) also include this Detect And Repair function.

Get your PDFs out of Safari

Not everyone prefers to view PDFs in a browser. To force Safari to revert to its old behavior—namely, downloading a PDF rather than displaying it—launch Terminal (/Applications/Utilities) and enter this command:

defaults write com.apple.Safari WebKitOmitPDFSupport -bool YES

From now on (or at least until you enter the same command ending with NO rather than YES), Safari will download PDF files.

View PDFs with Firefox

Mozilla’s Firefox (free) Web browser doesn’t offer PDF viewing in the browser window by default. When you click on a PDF browser link, Firefox pops up a dialog box that offers you the option to open the file with your Mac’s default PDF viewer or save the file.

AdobePDFViewer.plugin isn’t compatible with Firefox, but if you’re using a PowerPC-based Mac, you have other options. Shubert|it provides the first option, the free PDF Browser Plugin (   ). With this plug-in installed in your Internet Plug-Ins folder, you have the same inline PDF viewing options that Safari offers (although they’re available in a toolbar rather than a contextual menu), plus the ability to rotate pages and view facing pages.

As this article went to press, PDF Browser Plugin wasn’t compatible with Intel Macs. If you want to view a PDF inside Firefox on an Intel Mac, turn to Denis Remondini’s free PDF Download extension. It can display a PDF file as HTML within a browser window, but offers no special navigation or viewing features.

Banish PDFMaker from Office

Tired of seeing the PDFMaker toolbar slowly appear whenever you open a Microsoft Word, Excel, or PowerPoint document? No matter how many times you click on its close button, it seems impossible to make this option (brought to you by Adobe Acrobat Standard and Professional) go away for good.

To rid your Office applications of these toolbars, travel to /Applications/Microsoft Office version number /Office/Startup. Open the Excel, PowerPoint, and Word folders and remove the PDFMaker.xla, PDFMaker.ppa, and PDFMaker.dot files, respectively. When you next start an Office application, the toolbar will be gone. But keep an eye out for a Repair Setup window indicating that the PDFMaker component (which is responsible for these Office annoyances) needs repair. Deselect this option in the Repair Setup window to prevent Acrobat from reinstalling the toolbars.

Rev up Reader

Adobe Acrobat and Acrobat Reader can be very poky at launch. To perk them up, select the version of Acrobat you use, press Command-I to bring up the Info window, click on the triangle next to the Plug-ins entry, and disable every plug-in except WebLink.acroplugin, ImageViewer.acroplugin, EScript.acroplugin, and Search.acroplugin. You need these to open links, view slide shows, and search your PDF files, but everything else can go. See more speedup techniques.

Edit your PDFs

PDF files appear to be read-only documents, but unless the author protected it, you can select a PDF’s text, annotate it, and in some cases, edit it.

Select Text Selecting text in Preview or Acrobat works much as it does in any text editor. Choose the Text tool and drag it over the columns of text you want. This can be tricky if you’re working in Preview and your document contains columns. Hold down the option key to create a selection tool and drag that tool over the columns of text you want.

Add Notes Unlike Acrobat Reader, the version of Preview bundled with OS X 10.4 allows you to add annotations to unprotected PDF files. You can add both yellow sticky notes that contain text and red oval annotations for calling out items on the page. These annotations are embedded in the file and can’t be edited after you’ve saved it (and once saved with the file, they’ll appear in a printed copy).

Add Text Acrobat Standard and Professional let you add text to a PDF with the TouchUp Text tool (choose Tools: Advanced Editing: TouchUp Text Tool). To add text to a file, select this tool, option-click where you’d like to insert your text, choose a font from the New Text Font window that appears, click on OK to dismiss this window, and start typing.

To alter the text’s font, size, and fill color, select and control-click on it; from the contextual menu that appears, choose Properties. In the TouchUp Properties window, click on the Text tab and change the settings to your liking. To adjust the position of your text, choose Tools: Advanced Editing: TouchUp Object Tool. (If you don’t see these TouchUp tools, you’ve disabled plug-ins to speed up Acrobat’s performance. Enable the plug-ins to use the tools.)

Sign your PDFs

Need to sign a PDF document but don’t want to bother with printing it out? Acrobat Standard and Professional provide a roundabout way to append a scanned image of your signature to a PDF file.

Choose Tools: Commenting: Stamps: Create Custom Stamp. Click on the Browse button in the resulting Select Image For Custom Stamp dialog box. Navigate to the image you want to append and click on Select, and then on OK. In the Create Custom Stamp dialog box, type a category name for that image—

, for example—then name the stamp and click on OK. When you’re ready to slap your Joan or John Hancock on a document, choose Tools: Commenting: Stamps (or Stamp Tool in Acrobat 6) and select your stamp from the hierarchical menu.

If you don’t have Acrobat Standard or Professional, you’re not out of luck. Use SmileOnMyMac’s $50 PDF Pen (   ) to sign PDFs and create new PDF forms (see bottom screenshot).

[ Senior Editor christopher breen is the author of The iPod and iTunes Pocket Guide (Peachpit Press, 2005). ]

Convinced that there must be an easy way to zoom in on PDF files that display in Safari? Trust your instincts and control-click on the page—the tools you need are in this contextual menu.Even if you don’t have Acrobat Standard or Professional, you can still fill in PDF forms—or even add an image of your signature—using SmileOnMyMac’s handy tool PDFPen.
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