PDF Browser Plugin, by Schubert
Posted: 9-Feb-2006

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Schubert Type: FREEWARE

Reviewer: Matt Perl Class: UTILITY
     
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Overview
I like programs that make my Mac more efficient. As a mid-level user, I've downloaded a lot of neat applications. Sadly, many of these just sit in my applications folder, forgotten, never used. Don't get me wrong, I like them. I really do. I just don't remember that I have them. To be truly functional, software should just lie low, hang out quietly minding it's own business, then pounce when needed.

PDF files are well-packaged, clean, and organized bundles of information. In the past, I've always been a little miffed that while I'm surfing Safari for this or that, a PDF that catches my attention suddenly feels like it can just dig into my applications' folder and open Preview whenever it feels like it. There is a well known alternative, and that's to have your browser use the Adobe Acrobat Reader PDF plug-in with Safari. There's another option, perhaps not as well-known. Meet Schubert's "PDB Browser Plugin"; it lies low, minds its own business, then pounces quite nicely when needed. PDF Browser opens PDF files that you surf to within the browser.


Vendor Description

"PDF Browser Plugin turns your web browser into the best PDF viewer available. With the help of PDF Browser Plugin you can view PDF documents directly in your web browser, print them, and save them to disk if you'd like to keep them. The Schubert|it PDF Browser Plugin perfectly integrates into your web browser and with its great Mac look & feel it looks like it always belonged into it. Easy to use and intuitive toolbar buttons give you quick access to the most common features, and a standard Action menu lets you access everything else even while the toolbar is hidden in cases when you need the maximum screen real estate. PDF Browser Plugin takes advantage of the Quartz technology that is built into Mac OS X. That means you are viewing PDF documents with the same crisp and high quality graphics you are used to from other modern Mac OS X applications. And of course it also profits from the high speed of Quartz when displaying PDF documents."


Requirements
Mac Ox X 10.3 or later (there is an alternate version available for 10.2 Jaguar)
Works with any web browser except for Internet Explorer


Price
For not-for-profit activities at home or at educational institutions, PDF Browser Plugin 2 is free. You can order a site-license of PDF Browser Plugin 2 for $69. The site-license is valid for all computers of a single organization within a 5 miles perimeter.


Setup and Installation
You can download PDF Browser Plugin 2.2.3 from the Schubert web site. This downloads a "dmg" file which should open automatically. Reading the "Read Me" file is a must, since the application must be dragged to a "/library/internet plug-ins" folder either in the administrator's account, or into individual user accounts. Restarting the web browser then activates the plug-in. "Read Me" includes a cautionary note and instructions on how to disable both Adobe Reader 7 and Preview if either of them has been set to automatically open PDF files.

In Use
I had been using Preview up to this time to look at PDF files, but since it's a stand-alone application, the PDF would first download, then open Preview, taking me away from my browser. Installing PDF Browser Plugin skips the download step, as the PDF opens immediately in a new browser window, but operates as a regular document viewer. Documents can be viewed with several different formats such as a continuous view or a facing pages view similar to a magazine. Links to other web pages work with a click of the mouse. Documents with text fields to fill can be done from the plug-in. Documents can be printed from the browser or saved to your hard drive.

The first time a PDF document is opened, a toolbar opens at the top of the PDF document, below the browser's native toolbar. As far as the space taken up by the toolbar, it's actually quite narrow and hardly noticeable. Compared to screen space taken up by opening another application such as Preview or Acrobat Reader, the PDF Browser Plugin wins hands down. Also you can easily use the plugin with the toolbar turned off via the right-hand menu icon(see below). Control buttons are located in this toolbar at the top of the page. The icons used to identify them are somewhat confusing, but identifying labels do pop up if the mouse lingers over them long enough.


PDF Browser toolbar

The buttons in the tool bar are described below from left to right:

Open with external view: provides a pop-up menu of applications on your Mac which sit ready to open the PDF if you want the file outside of the browser. My Mac offers Preview, Acrobat 6, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, and Graphic Converter. Dragging down to highlight one of these launches the program and opens the PDF document.

Save: opens a standard save dialogue to save the file to the computer's hard drive.

Print: launches the familiar print dialogue.

Show table of contents: Toggles a PDF's table of contents on and off (providing that one has been encoded in the file). As with Preview, clicking on a link in the Table of Contents goes directly to that page.


Display options (next three buttons): Includes standard view, facing pages (where even pages are placed on the left side and odd on the right of a larger page), continuous view (with no page breaks).

Sizing buttons (next three buttons): fairly self-explanatory with enlarge (+), return to original size (single dot) and reduce (-). Note that the page cannot be made smaller than the original.

Left and right arrows: function as forward and back browser buttons within the changes/advances one's made within the document. That is, if you've gone from page 5 to page 19 to page 12 in the document, the left arrow will take you from page 12 back to page 19; if you've gone from viewing pages in "continuous view" to "facing pages", the left arrow will return you to "continuous view." The left arrow will not back you out of the PDF document. The right arrow button functions in the opposite manner.

Rotate: rotates the topmost viewed page 90 degrees of clockwise rotation per click, up to a full 360 degrees.

Menu (on the far right): provides a drop-down action menu for the options listed above, links to the developer's website, and an option to turn off the toolbar.
The menu icon turns into a tiny arrow when the toolbar's off; clicking on this arrow opens the menu and presents the option to open the toolbar again. It also presents a drop-down menu to open the document with other programs, such as Preview, Adobe Acrobat, and other applications on your computer which might open the file.

Additional keyboard commands are documented in the "Read Me" file (and shown below):


PDF Browser - Keyboard commands

The plug-in takes a bit of getting used to, specifically the control buttons, given their somewhat non-intuitive icons. I found a learning curve of a half-dozen or so PDF's being opened and manipulated before I felt comfortable with the controls and menus. Once I mastered the controls however, I liked the ability to view PDF's without leaving Safari. It's nice to view manuals (such as for my digital camera) without downloading the entire file to the computer. Scrolling is very smooth.

User documentation is lacking for the plug-in, appearing neither on the website itself, nor in the download.

For the occasional PDF document which requires text fields to be entered, the plug-in worked beautifully. Interestingly, when I tried to print using Safari's command-P keyboard control, the document appeared blank. Using the plug-in's print button, I was able to print the document with text-fields completed. This is hinted at in the "Read Me" document which comes with the plug-in download.

The plug-in seems a bit slow opening large PDF documents, waiting for the entire file to load into the browser before opening the first page. For some reason, neither the scroll wheel on my Macmice mouse, nor my Turbo Mouse would scroll the PDF's; the scroll function for both devices work fine with regular Safari web pages, perhaps this function will be added in a future update of the software.

I do like the ability in Preview to go to a page automatically by typing in the page number, a feature lacking in this plug-in. One major drawback is the lack of a search command. The Mac Os X standard "control-F" command does not work to search PDF's opened in the browser, and there is no search window such as one finds in Preview's drawer.

An additional download on the
Schubert website is called PDF Browser Plugin 2.1 Settings. When downloaded and opened, a file by the same name is placed on the computer. The sole function appears to be to change the background color on which PDF's are viewed, and to toggle on/off whether text fields amenable to being filled in are highlighted. It would have been easier if this plugin where just included with the main download.

Finally, there is no easy way to toggle the plug-in on and off. As far as I can tell, the only way to turn it off is to manually remove the plug-in from your library.

Summary
Schubert's PDF Browser Plugin is a nice program for viewing PDF documents in your web browser. This plug-in allows you to stay within your browser program while viewing PDF files versus launching another program, such as Preview. It does a great job with images, and makes it easy to save and print files. It includes features for easy document rotating with flexible page-viewing options. Best of all, PDF Browser is free for home or educational use. There is room for improvement in the plug-in. Unlike Preview, a thumbnail drawer is not available for quick browsing and selecting pages in the document. There was no search function or place to enter a page number to jump to, making it difficult to view and search longer documents. It could also use an option for easy uninstall, and some better documentation. The bottom line is that PDF Browser includes some very nice features, is a free download, and I like using it. I recommend all Mac users giving it a try.

Pros

  • PDF viewing within the browser app
  • Freeware
  • Very clear images
  • Easy to save and print files
  • Can rotate files 90 degrees with ease
  • Flexibility in page-viewing options

Cons

  • Difficult to view and search long documents
  • No thumbnail drawer
  • Confusing icons
  • No toggle on/off option
  • Lack of good user documentation


Overall Rating

4 out of 5 Mice