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PDF Tools For The Mac

Yesterday, bMighty blogger Matthew McKenzie ran down some Acrobat alternatives for Windows users. But there are some useful PDF tools Mac-using businesses should know about too; here are a few.

Yesterday, bMighty blogger Matthew McKenzie ran down some Acrobat alternatives for Windows users. But there are some useful PDF tools Mac-using businesses should know about too; here are a few.Mac users don't need quite as much help with PDF manipulation as Windows users do, because PDF capabilities are built right into OS X. If you want to create a simple PDF, all you have to do is choose that option in a Print dialog box. And the built-in Preview app is a functional PDF reader with a few basic annotation and markup tools. But the built-in tools can't handle some common tasks, and for those there are some alternatives.

Formulate Pro, an open source project from Google Code, doesn't do much more than Preview, but it does add a couple of useful features. For one, it has a freehand tool, so you can scribble on the page if you have a reason to. But most of all, it lets you place a graphic on a PDF. I have a couple of scanned versions of my signature, and I use Formulate Pro to add them to PDF agreements I receive. That way I don't have to print them out, sign them, and fax them -- I just e-mail back the signed PDF.

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Another open source PDF editor is Skim, originally designed for annotating scientific papers. It adds nice navigation features like a little popup preview of items in the sidebar table of contents, which can also be viewed as thumbnails. It can also display all your notes in another list, including the text contents of anything highlighted. But the notes and highlights are saved as extra elements of the Skim file, not written into the PDF until you choose to. That lets you comment on a PDF while letting Skim users also see the original version.

Probably the utility I use most often is Combine PDFs. This tool lets you take different PDF files (or JPEGs), drag them into a window, arrange them in order, and save them to a single multipage PDF. I use Combine PDFs to send all participants in a project a single file showing what each of them did, so I don't have to send around a bunch of separate files. This one isn't free -- it costs $30 -- though the trial version will let you combine a thousand pages before it asks for money.

And sometimes you want to go the other direction -- to get things out of PDF into a standard desktop program. For that, I like deskUNPDF from Docudesk. The Mac version, equivalent to the Windows Pro version, converts PDFs into Word or Excel documents. It'll even preserve the layout of a PDF converted to Word as best it can. This one's a pricier than the others -- $69.95, with discounted 5, 10, and 20 packs available -- but if you've ever spent any time copying and pasting text from a PDF into Word, or worse, figures from a table into Excel, you'll find that deskUNPDF can save you a lot of headaches.

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