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.

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