Adobe's recently-released Reader 9 offers dramatically improved startup speed and, a new, clean and attractive interface, and other improvements, so is there still reason to use Reader now that OS X Preview has become such a capable PDF viewing tool?" />

Adobe Reader 9 vs. OS X Preview 4.1 - Which Is The Best PDF Viewer?

25670 Apple does a pretty good job of making a third-party software applications redundant. Safari is now a better than good-enough browser that one can use it as their Web-surfing application without looking elsewhere. The combination of Text Edit and Pages pretty much eliminates any compelling need for third-party word processors. Ditto for Numbers vs Excel. iPhoto is a fine image organizer and OS X Mail a very respectable email client, although Apple doesn't really have anything to compare with Photoshop Elements, Pixelmator, and Acorn in the mid-range image editing department.

Then there's bundled OS X Preview vs Adobe Reader. Is there any point in bothering with Reader anymore, now that Preview is such a capable application? A month or two ago I would have said probably no. Or at least I hadn't bothered much with Reader more than occasionally for a long while. Oh, I kept Reader 8 installed and ready to roll if I absolutely needed it for something Preview couldn't do or wouldn't do as well, but I've found such instances fewer and farther between lately. Especially since the feature enhancements Preview got with OS 10.5 Leopard.

Reader 8 was still a powerful and full-featured (at least for PDF viewing), but it was such a ponderous lump, taking what always seemed just short of an eternity to lumber into action. That alone was enough for me to keep Preview, which starts up in seconds - even on my old 1.33 GHz PowerBook, configured as my default PDF viewer.

However, Adobe's recently-released Reader 9 has changed the game again, and has me considering shifting PDF default back to it instead of Preview. Or perhaps not.

Philosophically, while I'm delighted that Apple has such a strong lineup of software applications these days, I'm inclined more often than not to prefer the third-party competition for my own use. No prejudice here. I just find that Apple's software usually seems to the oriented somewhat towards the lowest common denominator to accommodate novice users, while certain other applications have a more incisive functional focus.

I use Opera, Firefox, and iCab, in approximately that order, rather than Safari for most of my Web-browsing, and I much prefer Tex Edit Plus and Bean to Text Edit for a light-duty text editor/word processor. I am still using Eudora 6.2.4 for email, and OS X Mail probably wouldn't be my second or even third choice. I use both iPhoto and Adobe's The Bridge (now comes bundled with Photoshop Elements 6), and am not sure which I prefer as an image organizer. A similar dynamic now applies to Preview vs Adobe Reader. I like them both, and with Reader 9, could Adobe Reader have regained the edge?

Adobe Reader, as you probably know, is Adobe's free application that allows you to view, print, search, sign, verify, and collaborate on PDF documents, online as well as offline. Reader 9 has a redesigned interface - much cleaner, simpler, and more attractive and Mac-like than previous versions' Windowsy busyness and complexity; new tools, and new options for viewing information more efficiently, such as access to an online, real-time meeting in seconds.

Adobe Reader (neé Acrobat Reader) has been around for a ling time, as its version number attests, but Version 9 has added a number of new functionality features, and, hallelujah! - improved launch speeds. They are not kidding about this. It's a massive improvement. I timed opening several PDF documents, both text-heavy and graphics-heavy, in Reader 9 and Leopard Preview with the programs starting up from cold, and there was very little difference, the edge, if any going to Reader.

Both applications offer several different view and navigation options for PDF documents.

Adobe Reader 9:




Apple Leopard Preview 4.1:




Packages, introduced in Adobe Reader 8, have also been enhanced and renamed. Portfolios provide easy navigation when you work with multiple PDF documents and other document types. They also enable you to work with a collection of materials such as drawings, e-mail messages, spreadsheets, and videos as a single file, which makes distribution, storage, retrieval, and collaboration easy for end users.

Adobe Reader 9 has native Adobe Flash support and can natively display rich media content with Portfolios.

Included with Adobe Reader 9 is (beta), a new set of online services from Adobe. With, you can create PDF files online; create and coauthor documents with others; host live web meetings; upload and share PDF files and other types of documents and control who has access to them; and even embed a rich, interactive preview of your document in a web page. All of these services and more are provided online, so you can access them from anywhere. And you'll find easy access points from within Reader 9. As an added convenience, leverages Adobe AIR, so you can interact with from your desktop. on Adobe AIR is a small application that is included with your download of Adobe Reader 9.

Reader is integrated with Adobe Connect software, which enables users to instantly communicate and accelerate approvals with virtually anyone, anywhere, at any time. Add more security to your documents, forms, and drawings with digital signatures. Leverage Adobe LiveCycle Policy Server and the new Adobe Online Services Document Center to enforce access rights at the document level.

CAD and geospatial functionality have been greatly enhanced in Adobe Reader 9. For instance, CAD designs or geospatial maps that have been converted to PDF offer Adobe Reader users access to CAD features, such as dimensions, or map features, such as longitude and latitude, for powerful collaboration and interaction.

When a PDF/A or PDF/X standard compliant file is opened, a Standards Pane appears and provides important file details.

Adobe Reader 9 also provides new security enhancements with digital signature functionality. The new version also adds support for 256-bit AES encryption.

Version 9 significantly improves the viewing of XFA forms for accessibility, while providing greater screen reader support.

All good stuff, but or its part, Preview development hasn't been standing still either. ONe of the reasons it's been a lot faster than Reader up to now is that the program has supported GPU acceleration in OS X since October 2003's OS X 10.3 Panther's introduction of QuartzExtreme, a hardware accelerated version the Mac OS X Quartz rendering engine.

Preview is closely integrated with QuartzExtreme, which is based on the PDF format, which helps make it so speedy, and while the new Reader 9 starts up much faster than it used to, it still lags Preview in most other functions such as scrolling, page advances and updates, and so forth liveliness-wise, presumably because it is cross-platform and therefore can't be (at least economically) closely integrated with OS X engineering.

Reader's sluggishness is particularly evident when opening menus, the Preferences dialog, and the like, and when scrolling through documents with lots of graphics, where I found it struggled to keep up with page refreshes and often failed to.

Another oddity I noted with a document I checked in both applications was that Reader couldn't seem to fill in the text entries in a graph, while Preview had no trouble at all with that.



I also found that Preview renders fonts more attractively and gracefully in some documents.

Another big plus the OS 10.5 Leopard version of Preview has over Reader is that the program now also incorporates some handy dandy image correction and editing tools that are not only extremely user-friendly and intuitive to use, but also work really well, which is very convenient if you don't have Photoshop Elements or another bitmap image editor.

Preview now has an image scaling and resizing tool that lets you conveniently and quickly change a photo's resolution. Just select Adjust Size from the Preview of Tools Menu, and either manually enter the desired dimensions in the provided fields, or pull down the menu and choose one of the resolution selections provided. You can also change the resolution of your picture (number of pixels per inch) by setting it in the resolution box.


There is also a Reassemble Image selection which, when it's turned off, Preview will adjust the image's size by making the existing pixels bigger or smaller, but will not change the number of pixels. However, with Reassemble Image turned on, Preview will add or subtract pixels as necessary to scale your photo up or down, averaging the colors of neighboring pixels when you are scaling up.

Of course, if you need to do more advanced correction such as red eye or spot removal, or retouching, you'll still need an application like Photoshop Elements or Pixelmator or maybe the correction tools in iPhoto will do, but the above-described features are not the totality of Preview's new initiating capabilities by any means. For example Preview can also extract people or objects from photo backgrounds.

Preview can rotate images too. The rotate tools are not included in the default toolbar button set, but you can add them using the customize toolbar options. Clicking Rotate will rotate all pages in the PDF document. Option clicking rotate, will only rotate the page you are currently viewing.

Once your photos are edited to your satisfaction, Preview can also display them in a slideshow without leaving the application. Just choose Slideshow from the View menu or press Command>Shift>F. The contents are displayed using the full screen, and controls at the bottom of the screen let you move from item to item, or to end the slideshow. Once Preview is in Slideshow mode, if you click the "Index page" button in the onscreen toolbar, you will get a "contact sheet" array of all the images. Double-clicking anywhere except on the toolbar will hide the toolbar for true full screen viewing. Click again to make it reappear. Pretty neat.

Consequently, while Reader 9's faster startups are much appreciated and make the program one I actually enjoy using, it has to be said that Preview (thanks to that GPU acceleration integration with OS X) is the better general-purpose PDF viewer, with the added bonus that it can open and edit graphics files as well.
The only reason to use Reader instead of Preview would be if you want to need one or more of Reader's more advanced or esoteric PDF features that Preview doesn't support.

Charles W. Moore

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