My New Favorite Tool for Reviewing PDFs

There are tons of ways to create PDF documents for things like marketing materials or sales collateral. Anything from browser-based design applications to word processors and full graphic design suites. There are also tons inefficient ways to review those PDFs as they’re being created.

Here’s the problem: Usually everyone doesn’t have access to the same creation tools (think a small business trying to work with a marketing agency). And even if they do have the same tools, most of these tools don’t have review features.

I found a software program the other day and it’s my new favorite tool for reviewing PDFs. It’s free, open source, actively being developed, and is supported across many operating systems (including Linux): It’s called Okular.

This Post Isn’t For You If…

  • You have so many rounds of back and forth on collateral that it’s clear you don’t have strategic alignment and it’s spilling over into stifling execution. Hate to say it, but the tools aren’t the problem here.
  • Everyone on your team has the same PDF creation tools and those tools have excellent review features that work for everyone involved.
  • You don’t have any use for PDFs in any sales or marketing interaction.

Ways I’ve Reviewed PDFs

Have you done any of these?

  • Emails that are hundreds of words long
  • Dozens of messages in chat or project management software
  • Conference calls, walk up interruptions, or meetings for verbal review
  • Indiscernible red ink markup on a printed document
  • Scans, faxes, or even photos of red ink markup on a printed document

Physically marking up a printed document has been my go-to in the past. If you are like I was, maybe you are Too Busy™ too and one of these methods works best for you. After trying Okular, it’s my new preference.

Okular Screenshots

Here’s a simple demonstration of the review tools within Okular, using a freely licensed PDF from Creative Commons about their six licenses for sharing work. Screen shots shown running on Pop!_OS Linux in Okular Version 1.3.3.

Special thanks to the KDE community for creating and maintaining this program. Curious to try it yourself? Download Okular.

Why I Like Okular

Okular is free, open source, and multi-platform. It has a few simple tools that do their job well with practically zero learning curve. It contextualizes edits within the work itself rather than separating them away.

Crucially, it supports asynchronous and remote collaboration. It has no live chat, activity tracking, real-time comment bubbles, and there’s nobody “in the document” with me. Just me. With time and space to think.

Another reason I like Okular is going through edits takes some time (versus scribbling in red pen). This is a feature, not a bug. The deliberation that comes with using the tool undermines the almost God complex I’ve previously felt when reviewing and approving collateral.

Just last week I was working with a designer on a product specifications sheet. I retracted several edits I’d initially logged after realizing what the designer was seeing when they first created a draft submitted for my review.

Retracting edits almost never happened when I was on past red ink power trips.

On net, I’ve found Okular makes creating PDF collateral more efficient. This comes in-part at the expense of the reviewer needing to be more deliberate. This trade-off is totally worth it.

I love creating and using PDFs for sales collateral and marketing materials. They work. So I’ve spent a lot of time creating PDFs over the years. What do you think? Do you have any tools you recommend?

Learning Spanish on Linux

I’ve had a long-time personal goal of improving my ability to talk, read, and write in Spanish. This year, I’m doing it. Here are resources you might also find useful too, with a specific focus on tools for desktop Linux users.

Configuring Your Keyboard

If you are like me, your keyboard probably has a U.S. English layout for the keys. This means you’re going to need a software fix to easily type accents and other special characters in Spanish, like ñ.

This is shown below in Pop!_OS 18.04, which applies to Ubuntu 18.04 and possibly other Linux distros with GNOME. Regardless, you should be able to find how to do this on your operating system with an online search.

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Click Region & Language
  3. Click + to Add
  4. Click More
  5. Search for Spanish
  6. Select and Add Spanish
  7. See the keyboard selection (top bar)*
  8. See the Keyboard Layout**

* In Pop!_OS (and I think GNOME in general), you can quickly switch between keyboard selections with Super + Space Bar.

** Select the Keyboard Layout menu and hit different keys, they will change color on the screen to indicate when you are activating them. Depending on the physical keyboard layout on your computer, you may need to go back to Step 6 and select a different layout option.

Next you could buy physical stickers for your keyboard. If you are going to be writing a lot and are only used to the U.S. English layout, this is worth considering. There are a lot of options, but Keyshorts looks interesting. (I haven’t brought from them and don’t have an affiliate link.)

Web Translation

WordReference is by far the most helpful online translation tool. While it won’t help with whole-phrase translation, it provides contextual meaning for different words and I highly recommend it. You can also configure translation shortcuts into your web browser through WordReference in Firefox, which is my browser of choice. The shortcuts are convenient and totally worth setting up.

There are other online translation services that also have mobile apps. An open source option is Apertium, which also has a desktop application (see below). The most popular (in the U.S.) are probably Google Translate and Bing Translator by Microsoft. Pretty serious caution on using these. They’ll be helpful for getting the gist of phrases, but they can be inaccurate.

Desktop Translation

The most mature project that seems to have the most traction is Apertium. There are many different ways you can install Apertium on your computer. (Apertium also offers a web service, see above.)

The other option I found is GNOME Translate, however I ran into the same bugs others have reported in LaunchPad that haven’t been addressed in years. My assumption is that this is an abandoned project for the time being. It’s apparently a GNOME interface for libtranslate, which you may be able to make use of.

Linux Translation Communities

There are many active Spanish translation groups and efforts in the Linux community. These resources, especially the ones with glossaries, are helpful for seeing how certain phrases are translated/interpreted:

I hope this is helpful. If I missed something or there’s something you’d like me to look into further, please let me know.