Screen Reading

I’ve never been a big fan of reading things from a computer screen, web-sites have never been a problem but PDF’s of any significant length have always been a lot of work and have either gone unread or been printed and read offline.

Recently, that all changed. It seems I should follow Unix philosophies more frequently. General purpose document viewers are all well and good for short documents but for more in depth on screen reading the additional niceties added to purpose built readers are a must.

More specifically of late I have been reading a lot of “academic” papers and comic books (polar opposites?) on my iBook.

Skim“… is a PDF reader and note-taker for OS X. It is designed to help you read and annotate scientific papers in PDF, but is also great for viewing any PDF file.”

The main advantages Skim offers over Preview.app is the note taking features. How far can you actually get through a paper without wanting to highlight (or circle) a section or jot down some notes. Even better, if you’re reviewing a document in PDF form you can cross out sections and add notes for proposed changes.

Full screen mode is a great (although not unique) feature enabling you to immerse yourself in the paper while still having access to all of Skims features via automatically hiding “drawers” and menu bar. Very nice.

Skim makes the process of consuming papers on-screen much more pleasant and enjoyable.

FFView“…is a fast OpenGL-powered picture viewer a la ACDsee (2.x). It is aimed at letting you read manga or other comics onscreen (windowed & fullscreen mode). Features include fast prefetching, smooth panning, voice commands, 2-page mode, a magnifying lens, the ability to browse pictures inside archives (.rar/.cbr, .zip/.cbz/, .pdf) and sticky per-picture options. It reads EXIF tags and is scriptable.”

Now that I’ve found FFView I only wish more comics where available in digital (cb[r|z]) format. If some of the larger comic publishers would offer their publications in digital format I would gladly subscribe to and/or purchase them.

FFView makes reading comics on-screen a joy. You can use the spacebar to page through the pages and if a page doesn’t fit on one screen it will scroll down before turning pages on the next tap of the spacebar, a nice feature which other comic readers I tried don’t get right.

The magnifying lens often comes in very handy, particularly when reading a double page spread on a 1024×768 screen, in fact my only gripe with FFView is that there is no shortcut key for enabling/disabling the magnifying lens meaning the menu must be invoked with a mouse.

Shameful update: I should have known better. FFView has an impressive preference pane allowing full customisation of keyboard shortcuts for all menu items. I now have Command + Shift + M bound to show/hide magnifying lens. Fantastic!

Like Skim FFView supports a full screen mode where the menu bar is automatically hidden and shown which works very smoothly.

Both Skim and FFView are open source projects. Skim is a new project with frequent updates whereas FFView has been around for some time now but is still receiving attention from its developers having had an update within the last month.

If you’re a Mac user and read comics and or PDF’s check these apps out.

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