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papers-icon.pngContrary to some belief, Macs are not just heavily used by designers, photgraphers, and other creative types, they’re heavily used by scientists as well. (As a scientist and computer tech in an all-Mac lab, I love my Macs.)

If you’re a scientist – and even if you’re not, so don’t stop reading, O Non-Scientists – there are a lot of .pdf files to deal with, everything from manuals for the equipment to grant forms and, of course, the ubiquitous scholarly papers. It gets so bad that on particularly busy days, my office looks rather as if a copier exploded in it.

Which is where Papers comes in. Papers, winner of the 2007 Apple Design Award for Best Mac OS X Scientific Computing Solution and product of the inimitable Alexander Griekspoor and Tom Groothuis, is a immensely elegant solution to those paper explosions. Papers can find, sort, organize, import, download, export, and email any paper you throw at it. Here’s how it works: first, import the papers you already own, then, using those papers and Papers easy tools, acquire all the other papers you need. Like the similar tool Yep, you can view the first page in a lower pane, but Papers has a more database-like interface, capable of sorting your papers by author, title, date, journal, your rating, and more. A pane on the right shows the title, journal, and paper abstract for easy flipping. A full-screen mode lets you read papers without distraction, and with easy mouse and keyboard control. There is a pane in the normal window mode that lets you take notes on the paper, and a small HUD that appears in the full-screen mode to do the same.

Even better, you can drag a paper to another application – say, Pages, where you’re writing your thesis – and have it appear as an Endnote citation. (Other options are a BibTex key, the title of the paper, or a URL-reference.)

Of course, this is all metadata based, so what if your paper didn’t have metadata added? That too is simple. Seven included search engines, including PubMed and Google Scholar, and more installable ones let you search for and match your paper with the online metadata. Just pull up a search tab, find your paper, and click Match. All those pesky metadata fields, including abstract, are filled. Those same integrated search engines will let you find and download papers related to those in your database in a snap, no browser needed – and even support some academic proxies!

This is, quite simply, one of the best and most time-saving pieces of software I’ve come across in years. If you’re trying to manage a library of .pdf’s on your Mac, you owe it to yourself to try this out. (Thirty-day full-feature trial available at link above; single-user license $42, with a 40% discount for students.) Also, if you’re interested in icons and icon design, check out the designer’s webpage for that library icon here – the use of layers and detail in the icon is fascinating, as is the way those construction layers appear in the setup for the application itself.

12 Responses to “Papers”

  1. @Stephanie — Thanks! I’ll have to check it out. I’ll admit that BibDesk had a bit of a learning curve for me (and resulting frustration), what with all the templates and so forth. Sounds like Papers might be a better solution for my needs.

  2. Stephanie Guertin

    @Billy – the big difference between this and BibDesk, for me, is ease of use. In literally no more than 45 seconds or so, I can import one paper, pull its metadata from PubMed, and search for and download other papers on the same subject/by the same author.
    I don’t have to fight with it, or wrestle with software that wasn’t really written for my Mac. The end result? A feeling of ‘my computer likes me and works with me,’ not frustration. (And it’s become a bigger recruiter to Macs than Quicksilver ever was, which amuses me.)

  3. I have been using Papers since the first release. It is fantastic. I’m a Developmental Biologist and I’d say the key to this app is that it was designed and written by scientists (Alex and Tom started writing apps as grad students). This matters because the flow and feel of the app are very well suited for scientists. Features like exporting to Endnote are the bits that “finish” the application for me, making it a more complete solution than something like iTunes ever could be. As scientists, they knew what they needed to make things easier for themselves and we all benefit as a result.

  4. @Stephanie — Have you tried BibDesk? I’ve been using it for some time to manage my own research library. Can you comment on how the two compare? Considering that BibDesk is a free product with similar features (BibTeX export, database-like filing, etc.), I’m curious where Papers outperforms over BibDesk.

  5. Couldn’t agree more. I’m a fellow scientist, and Papers is probably the single best application I have ever used period. And, it keeps getting better since the Tom and Alex are so receptive to suggestions. I can’t say enough about how much this has helped me in my scientific career. All the PC folks in my lab are so jealous.

  6. Believe it or not, iTunes works as a PDF sorter just as well. It treats them just like songs, and by adding them to (smart) playlists, you have a powerful PDF organization program that’s already bundled with your Mac! The only downside is that PDF viewing is unavailable – you have to use Preview for that.