Issues with Preview in High Sierra, and compatibility between PDF applications

I'm a Mac user, recently moved over to Zotero from Sente. I like the idea of working directly in Preview rather than relying on Sente's proprietary encoding of annotations, which don't appear to be accessible except in Sente. However, moving to Preview has had its complications.

Yesterday, I switched to High Sierra (OS 10.13.1), and Preview appears to be riddled with bugs—an unpleasant surprise in an OS that has been spun as a stability release. Upwards of half of any newly recreated stand-alone pop-up notes disappear after closing and re-opening a file. The note frame appears in the Highlights and Notes sidebar but the text is gone. Notes affixed to highlighted text don't appear to disappear, but the note itself almost invariably snaps shut instantly when you open the note, making it almost impossible to copy or edit a note. The Zotfile extracted annotations contain indecipherable symbols at the start of some notes.

(1) Has anyone experienced anything similar?

I have reported these problems to a senior advisor, who was able to reproduce the main issues and will be reporting them to the engineers. It seems strange that such basic problems made it through all of the betas and one month of 10.13.0.

Perhaps most troubling, since I assume (or at least hope) that Apple will not leave such glaring bugs in place, is that the notes I create in Preview are represented by empty bubbles in Adobe Acrobat Pro. We used to be able to count on transferability between at least most PDF applications (though my brief earlier test of Skim suggests that it does not mix well at all with Preview). If Apple goes its own separate way on how it formats PDF annotations, then that is bad news for those of us who rely on reference managers but would like some application or platform independence.

(2) Does anybody know of any programers that can convert annotations from one PDF application into a form that can be handled by another application? I'm particularly interested to know whether there is a way to rescue the PDFs created by Sente.

Any other insights into PDF compatibility are welcome.

  • Re: 2) I'm not aware of anything that would convert Sente annotations. Annotations in PDF are actually part of the PDF standard and most PDF readers are cross-compatible with all standard highlighting and annotations formats. The major exceptions are reference managers like Sente and Mendeley which use built-in custom formats and Skim, which also does its own thing. Mendeley is actually able to convert its own annotations to regular PDF ones, though it's tedious. Not sure about Sente.

    All other PDF readers - Adobe, Preview, FoxIt -- as well as most mobile apps like iannotate, can be used interchangeable for annotations.
  • Thanks. This is useful knowledge. Hopefully, then, the issues with Preview notes not showing in Adobe are, like the rest, bugs rather than a deviation from the PDF standard.
  • I would recommend Adobe Reader over Preview in High Sierra. It’s been much more stable and less buggy for me, as well as less CPU intensive.
  • edited November 9, 2017
    If you would benefit from a second opinion; I also endorse Reader over Preview. The reason I like Reader is that cutting text from the PDF document to paste into a note seems to almost always be more accurate (than a copy/paste from Preview), especially if the copy includes characters with diacritical markings, math characters, etc. Copying characters that have built-in kerning never works from Preview and some kerned-pairs (for example ligatures such as fi) almost always fail to copy both characters. I do not have this problem with Reader — Reader must somehow recognize common ligatures and parse the combined characters into separate letters.
  • Thanks for the suggestion. My version of Adobe Acrobat Pro is somewhat antiquated. Preview is simpler and cleaner; I have therefore found it more attractive. But I just loaded the current version of Adobe Reader, and it doesn't seem bad at all on initial viewing. I guess I can still use Acrobat Pro for OCR and for creating forms and use Reader for annotating. Apple clearly has stopped placing much value on its PDF software; after all, they haven't built an iOS version.
  • Not Acrobat Pro but simple vanilla Acrobat reader is what I am successfully using.
  • I just discovered this the hard way yesterday after losing several hours of work. (I was lucky I needed to add something to a comment after I thought I was done, or I would have sent it off with half the comment fields empty.)

    However, it seems like it may be happening in Adobe Reader (latest version) as well. I'm still testing, but some of the comments have been flaky in my new document, where I'm re-creating all the comments using Reader from scratch.

    In fact, someone on Adobe's forum with the same issue using Reader, no mention of Preview, but is using High Sierra. No traction there yet.

    Someone mentioned on a related thread on Reddit that they had been having this problem.
  • edited February 2, 2018
    Follow up to my previous comment (which is still awaiting approval before appearing since I'm a new user): Some comments seem to be disappearing entirely in Acrobat Pro DC as well, though I want to triple-check that. But one odd thing that indicates it's not entirely healthy is this character (Korean?) has been showing up at the end of my text in comments:

    No idea where that comes from or how it got there, it shows up with the same random spontaneity that the text disappears from comments in Preview.

    Speaking of which, there seems to be some misalignment of comment data types between Acrobat and Preview. My first attempt to recover lost comment text from a Preview doc was to open it in Acrobat. When I did, the Preview comments still had the round-corner square "post-it" appearance that Preview gives them. But new comments created in Acrobat have a smaller, darker yellow square icon with black outline and black outlined word balloon. The two were coexisting in the same document in Acrobat.

    I've been reading that Apple completely rewrote PDFkit for Mac OS for Yosemite or Sierra, and it created a ton of bugs and problems. If comments are indeed buggy in Acrobat on the Mac under High Sierra, it could be something Apple needs to fix.
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