Bugs & Fixes: When PDFs won't load in Safari

Snow Leopard has been out for over a month. Still, I keep tripping over compatibility problems. My most recent stumble occurred when I tried to view a PDF document, accessed as a Web link in Safari.

Safari correctly shifted to the page containing the PDF, but then stalled with the sundial cursor rotating endlessly. In a few instances, a dialog eventually popped up informing me that “AdobePDFViewer cannot find a compatible Adobe Acrobat or Adobe Reader to view this PDF.” However, attempting to locate a “compatible” version proved fruitless. I was using the most recent version of Reader and it didn’t work.

The crux of the problem, as it turns out, is the AdobePDFViewer plug-in itself. As described in an Adobe support document, AdobePDFViewer is 32-bit software, while Safari in Snow Leopard is 64-bit. The two don’t play well together. This is a common source of compatibility problems (as I noted previously in my Snow Leopard grab bag post.). Until Adobe updates the plug-in to a 64-bit version (and the support article gives no indication as to when this might happen), the company’s recommended solution is to run Safari in 32-bit mode, by going to Safari’s Get Info window in the Finder and enabling “Open in 32-bit mode.”

Unfortunately, this fix has the downside of losing the speed advantage of running Safari in 64-bit mode.

Happily, there is another solution. As long as you don’t absolutely need any of the unique features of the Adobe plug-in (which you most likely don’t), you can simply disable the plug-in. To do this, go to /Library/Internet Plug-Ins folder and drag the plug-in from the folder. (If the plug-in is not there, look in the matching location in your Home directory’s Library.) Next, quit and relaunch Safari. PDFs should now load using Safari’s built-in PDF viewer.

Should you instead want to keep the Adobe plug-in active (for occasional use), but still be able to view PDFs without shifting Safari to 32-bit mode, you can hold down the Option key when selecting a PDF link. This forces the PDF file to download to your Downloads folder rather than open in Safari. Double-click the downloaded file and it opens in Preview, where you can now view it.

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