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Road to Mac OS X Leopard: an extensive look at Preview 4.0

Apple in a matter of weeks will roll out Preview 4.0 as part of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, a significant update to its homebred media viewer that will see the application expand from a simple PDF reader into the beginnings of a full-fledged image editor. Here's an extensive look at what's new in Preview.

Prior to Mac OS X, Apple had bundled Adobe's free Acrobat PDF Reader with new Macs. However, Adobe's laggard support for Mac OS X combined with Apple's use of PDF as the display model for its Quartz graphics layer meant that Mac OS X ended up with its own Apple-branded PDF reader. As it turned out, Preview was far faster than Adobe's Reader, in part because it doesn't load up scores of seldom used feature plugins at launch, but also because it takes full advantage of the native PDF rendering features built into Mac OS X's graphics engine.

Hidden Tiger Preview Features

In the currently shipping versions of Mac OS X, Preview is primarily used to view PDF renderings of documents aimed at a printer, or as a way to view incoming Faxes or screenshots captured to the desktop using Apple+shift+control+4. However, Preview already does more than that. It also serves as a simple tool for cropping, rotating, and resizing graphics, as well as a graphic exchange tool that can convert between any of the variety of graphic file types supported by QuickTime codecs, including GIF, JPEG, PNG, PICT, Photoshop PSD, TGA, TIFF, and Windows BMP.

Because Preview launches almost instantaneously, it also works well as a general graphics viewer. It even offers some basic image correction tools, including saturation, contrast, exposure, and sharpness sliders. If you draw a blank about how to perform a full screen slideshow for a selection of photos or graphics, open Preview and select Slideshow from the View menu. If you find yourself unable to remember the magic key combinations used to trigger a screen capture, you can fire up Preview and select Grab from the File menu, which presents the options to grab a selection, a window, or a timed shot of the screen.

As Preview adds on features that expand beyond simply viewing print previews, it edges closer to becoming a full-fledged image editor. As is commonly the case with Apple products, as it gets closer to perfection it becomes easier to criticize for not fulfilling every imaginable desire.

New Preview Features in Leopard

As Preview's new graphics editing features fill out in Leopard, it almost becomes frustrating that the free little app isn't a full blown Photoshop. Preview also handles PDF editing features, which will no doubt irritate some for not matching every detail of Adobe's full price Acrobat Professional. As a free tool of Leopard however, Preview does a lot and suggests even more in its potential. Here's what's new:


The first obvious new feature in Preview is its refined appearance. If you hated Tiger's Mail, get ready to be incensed over Preview. It uses similarly rounded buttons to link together Toolbar icons into groups, although it follows the unified window theme applied to all Leopard applications. The result is a more professional looking application that sheds the passé stripes and bright white appearance that debuted as part of Quartz's Aqua over five years ago.

Leopard's Preview 4.0

Tiger's Preview on the left compares to Leopard's revised Toolbar layouts on the right, for graphics (above) and PDFs (below).

Window Layout

In Tiger, Preview displayed multiple-page PDFs (or multiple graphics documents open at once within a single window) in a slide out drawer (below left). It turned out that drawers aren't really that great of a user interface idea. Since the original release of Aqua, drawers have been turning into sidebars like those used in iTunes and Mail. Leopard's Preview (below right) similarly ditches its drawer for a sidebar that exists as part of the window rather than a drawer sliding out the side of the main window.

Leopard's Preview 4.0

Tiger's Preview window layout on the left compares to Leopard's revised Window layout on the right.


The new sidebar has so many new functions it needs its own bullet point. By default, it displays thumbnails of each page of the PDF, just as the old drawer did. However, the sidebar width can be manually set to any width, and as it get wider, it accommodates multiple rows of thumbnails. A zoom slider adjusts the size of the thumbnails, allowing infinite control of how the window displays the document you're viewing. Thumbnails also support drag and drop reordering of pages within a PDF, and you can delete pages or insert new blank pages.

Leopard's Preview 4.0


In addition, the sidebar can also be used to view a PDF's table of contents, or a listing of annotations and hyperlinks within the document, or a listing of search results. Perform a query from the Toolbar search field, and the sidebar presents search results; a checkbox allows you to group your results by page hits (relevancy), or as a simple list all the matches.

Leopard's Preview 4.0

On page 2: Annotate Tools, Markup Tools, Graphics Tools, Adjust Size, and Extract Tools.