In Praise of Preview

Often, it’s the quiet utilities you use every day that speed your workflow. Without the bells and whistles of expensive commercial software packages, and lacking hoopla, they simply are there to help your Mac work better. Apple’s Preview application, which comes bundled with Mac OS X and every Macintosh sold, is one of those applications I’ve found myself using more and more for a variety of tasks – rendering other apps, including Adobe Acrobat and PhotoShop, unnecessary.

It comes with no surprise that two of the most resource-intensive, memory-hogging applications on the Mac are Acrobat and PhotoShop. When it comes to creating new documents or making edits, the pair are essential, but Preview is the slimmer alternative, performing basic tasks with ease. Though Preview’s core functionality was once to preview printed documents before they went to the printer or were saved as PDF, the application reads PDF and other image files much faster than Acrobat or Photoshop – so much so that I’ve made it the default system-wide for a wide variety of file types.

Even more impressively, Preview has evolved to act as a swiss army knife of graphics converters. While over the last decade, I’d relied on Lemke Software’s excellent GraphicConverter to modify file types, I can open images and save them as new directly from Preview, including GIF, JPG, PNG and more. Additionally, when working on PDF files, I can utilize the Quartz Filter to reduce PDF file sizes or save as black and white. This is especially important when working on PDFs from Apple’s Pages program, where PDF files can measure in the megabytes rather than a few hundred kilobytes.

Preview is also increasingly taking on Adobe’s Acrobat by offering annotation abilities and the option to add bookmarks. Quietly, under our nose, Preview has expanded beyond the level of such storied apps as SimpleText and Calculator to become a serious business app.