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31 May 2008

The Tree-Friendly Academic, Part II: The Editing Process, and Getting Off the Monitor

I'm grateful for the strong response to my original query for quality, free PDF annotation for Linux. In general, there seem to be a few categories.

-Windows-based editors, adaptable through emulators: PDF X-change, Foxit (free version), primopdf
-Linux editors with non-portable annotations: Okular, which has hidden XML files for its annotations (skim, for OS X, has the same scheme)
-early, incomplete solutions that will eventually be good: GNU's PDF project, Xournal
-early, incomplete solutions that aren't user-friendly: pdfedit, Cabaret Stage
-early solutions that are still in progress: evince

Of all of these options, I like Okular the best, mainly because integrating its XML-saved annotations into the PDF is but one plugin away (which might already exist, for all I know), and it's theoretically portable to Windows by installing qt4 binaries. Using an emulator like wine is a hassle big enough that I've avoided it, for the same reason I don't use cygwin on Windows systems.

So we're close to a (more) universal free editing environment. But I'm still not a fan of doing all my work on a screen, and also not willing to print. So I'm trying a middle road.

I bought an iLiad e-paper reader this past week, and so far I'm impressed with how it handles (though its price tag, $600 for the model I bought, definitely isn't for everyone, and was almost not for me). The screen is easily readable, the battery lasts, and I can zoom in and rotate documents to get a half-page display with larger text. More importantly, the device runs Linux and iRex has made a point to try and use open source software as much as possible, in contrast to Amazon and the Kindle (which is half the size, can't read PDFs and can't edit books.)

However, as the project is still in its relative infancy, there are a few functions it has yet to incorporate that I really would like, and they're the same ones I want in a computer-based annotator: highlighting multiple-column text, for example, so that I can extract passages I want later at the push of a button. And like Okular, the annotations made on the iLiad are saved in a companion XML file rather than the original PDF, but the company offers a free program to do the merging.

I'm going to continue to explore what the iLiad can do as far as editing, but it's definitely reassuring that everyone who's seen me used it has oohed and aahed at it.

To sum up, I've now got a free platform for reading, editing and annotating PDFs on a Linux machine, and an auxiliary paper-free method for reading them later which is admittedly not free. And I have more needs as well, but I can at least see them being met soon. What else do people want in paperless work we haven't covered yet?

P.S. If the people from iRex are reading this and want me to shill for them for real, they can let me know directly.

Posted by Andrew C. Thomas at 11:05 PM