Monday, August 03, 2009

Working with PDF documents in Ubuntu

PDF files can be a pain in the butt. The format is fantastic for keeping the layout of a page together, but irritating if you want to search the document, copy text or read on a small screen (especially a smartphone like the Nexus One).

There are a few Linux tools that can make working with PDFs a little easier.

Ubuntu comes with Evince, which it simply calls "Document Viewer." It doesn't by default show up in the Applications menu; it just opens when you double click on a pdf file. (If you want to open it without clicking on a pdf, just open application launcher (Alt-F2), type "evince" without the quotes, and click Run).

Evince is quick and it lets you search, print and copy from a pdf document, but its copy function has some limitations.

To copy, you highlight text line by line. That's fine for simple documents, but it can cause problems if the document has columns or other odd formatting.

Rather than just getting the lines from one column, you'll often also get the adjacent lines from the next column. Sometimes you'll get lines from an entirely different part of the document (I assume that has something to do with the way the pdf was created).

The great thing about Linux is that you have options to make working with pdf files easier.