PDF software and related rabbit holes

The Pathfinder stuff that I’ve been blogging about so much lately sent me down a couple of rabbit holes related to PDF software, so I thought I’d write that up here, for my own reference, if for no other reason.

First rabbit hole: form-fillable PDFs. The Pathfinder character sheet is a PDF file with fields you can fill in. Then you can save it and/or print it out. My initial attempt to fill it out was on my PC, using the software I’ve been using as my default PDF reader for the last few years, Sumatra PDF. Sumatra is a great lightweight PDF reader, but it doesn’t handle PDF forms. To make a long story short, I gave in and installed Acrobat Reader. I’ve been using it as my default PDF reader on my PC for a few weeks now, and I’m still not a fan. After installing it, I figured out that the PDF reader built into Firefox handles PDF forms reasonably well, so I could have skipped Acrobat Reader and just used Firefox, but I guess I’ll keep Reader installed for now.

I also found out that Reader won’t let me fill in a couple of the fields on the character sheet, but Firefox has no problem with them, so that’s weird, and another reason to give up on Reader, maybe.

On the Mac side, I’ve been using PDF Expert as my default PDF reader for several years. I bought a license for it some years back. But it’s now subscription-based, so my license doesn’t let me use the full feature set of the current version. Specifically, it apparently won’t let me edit the character sheet.

Preview on macOS is actually a pretty full-featured PDF viewer, and includes the ability to fill out forms. So I’m thinking about giving up on PDF Expert, since Preview seems to do everything I need.

On the iOS / iPadOS side of things, I’ve been using GoodReader as my PDF viewer for years, and I’m still sticking with it. I paid for it a long time ago, and it still works fine for me. I’ve experimented with some other options, but GoodReader always seems better.

On a related rabbit hole, I bought an Elfquest Humble Bundle today. I’ve been a fan of Elfquest since the original series was published, back in the 80s. I stopped following it at some point in the 90s, when they were publishing a bunch of stuff that wasn’t actually written/drawn by the original creators, Wendy and Richard Pini. I’m aware that, at some point, Dark Horse got the rights to reprint the older stuff, and that they were printing some new stuff too, but I didn’t pick up any of it. So this Humble Bundle was a chance to get DRM-free copies of all the older stuff, and get the newer stuff too. As with all this Humble stuff, I’m not sure when/if I’ll get around to reading any of it. But I have all the PDFs on my hard drive, for whenever I’m ready.

Humble is sometimes weird about the quality and size of the files they distribute. All of the Elfquest files are PDFs. Some of them are reasonably-sized, but there’s one 4 GB file and one 5 GB file. I’m pretty sure that both could be much smaller, so that sent me off down another rabbit hole, trying to figure out a good way to shrink them. Acrobat Reader won’t let you shrink PDFs without subscribing to Acrobat Pro for $20/month, so I’m not doing that. Ditto for PDF Expert on the Mac side. I’d need a subscription to compress a PDF.

Preview on macOS does allow you to compress PDFs, and I ran it on the 4 GB one and that got it down to 400 MB. But the image qualify went down noticeably. So I’ve been looking around at other options. ACBR Comic Book Reader for Windows lets you convert PDFs to CBR/CBZ files and (probably) compress them. But it choked on the 4 GB PDF and wouldn’t open it.

I thought maybe I’d look at PDFpen for Mac. That’s now owned by Nitro. You can buy it for $130, as a one-time purchase, no subscription. That’s not bad, I guess, but I don’t really know if I need it, or if it would do better at compressing the PDF than Preview did. Maybe I’ll download a trial, if I get bored/curious.

Nitro is also included in SetApp, which is a multi-app subscription for the Mac, for $10/month. I’ve thought about getting SetApp before, but there was never enough in it to entice me. I might be tempted, if there was something in there that could replace Evernote for me. And it looks like there might be, though neither option (NotePlan or Ulysses) has a Windows client. I’ve been thinking about getting off Evernote, since I’m not sure how much I trust their new owner. They just laid off more than 100 people. Anyway, the Evernote thing is yet another rabbit hole, and I probably shouldn’t go too far down that one yet. My Evernote subscription renewed in January, so I don’t need to worry about it again this year, really.

Back to the PDF thing: I still haven’t found a good way to compress those giant Elfquest PDFs, but I’m probably not going to try to read them any time soon, so I don’t necessarily have to worry about it right now. (And the need to compress them at all is based on a guess that GoodReader on my iPad would choke on a 4 GB PDF, but maybe it wouldn’t.)

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