Safari 5.1: Can no longer disable native support for display of PDF documents?

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
July 21st, 2011 • 6:28 pm

I haven’t upgraded to Lion yet, because I am too busy with work and I’d rather let someone else work out the kinks first.

But I did install all available updates for Snow Leopard this morning, including the latest version of Safari, version 5.1, which brings feature parity with the Lion version.

One of the first things I noticed, however, was that, when I click on a link to a PDF file in a web page, Safari has now reverted to its default behaviour of loading and displaying the PDF document in the current browser window, instead of my preferred option, which is to download the PDF file and let me select it in the Finder and view it with Preview when I am ready. (Needless to say, each time there is an Adobe software update, I also have to manually uninstall the PDF Internet plug-in that Adobe’s updaters install without my consent, in order to prevent that plug-in from interfering with my preferred behaviour as well.)

I have been using the alternative behaviour of PDF file downloading for many years now, and I basically had forgotten how I had set it in the first place. I knew it was not a feature available within the Safari interface itself. A quick search reminded me that it is (was?) one of these hidden preferences that are accessible either via the command line, with the defaults command, or with a third-party utility such as Cocktail or TinkerTool.

These utilities still work, but obviously the underlying hidden preference that they give access to no longer works — either it no longer exists or it is ignored by Safari 5.1. And based on this post at AskDifferent, I am not the only one who is encountering this issue and is at a loss as to how to work around it and restore our preferred behaviour.

I hate viewing PDF files within a browser window. The navigation options are frustrating, large PDFs take a long time to load, during which time you are basically staring at a blank grey window, and if you want to make sure you have a local copy of the PDF, you have to manually save it every time. And let’s not even mention the higher likelihood of crashes…

Yet obviously Apple’s engineers have decided that those of us who prefer the alternate behaviour of downloading PDF documents as separate files and viewing them at their leisure with Preview can take a hike. I hate it when they do things like this. They are essentially confirming the underlying message in all such measures, which is far too common in Apple products and amounts to something like, “We know what’s best for you, and too bad if you don’t agree with us.”

I know that we “pro” users are a small minority and, from a purely economic standpoint, Apple has little reason to care about our needs, but it does not make things any easier to swallow. It’s not like we have the alternative of switching to a more specialized software provider who actually cares about the needs of power users. All the other ones are even worse than Apple!

I am sure that there’ll be some people who will react to this post by saying that I should switch to Firefox or Chrome or something that lets me do what I want. But these people obviously don’t have the same standards I have, because I find these other pieces of software to be significantly inferior in many respects. It’s like telling me to switch to Windows or Linux because I find some aspects of Mac OS X frustrating. They are basically suggesting that I switch from a Jaguar to a Ford car. Even a fancy Ford car is still a highly frustrating substitute. There is no way that I am switching to that any time soon.

And so, like presumably thousands of other power users, I find myself once again frustrated by Apple’s blatant ignorance or contempt for my needs. I will live with the new behaviour for now, and I’ll try to remember to option-click on links to PDF files (which forces a download), but I sure hope that someone will soon find a new workaround to restore my preferred behaviour. (A Safari extension, maybe?)


5 Responses to “Safari 5.1: Can no longer disable native support for display of PDF documents?”

  1. Michael Tsai - Blog - Disabling Safari 5.1’s PDF Viewer says:

    [...] Pierre Igot: These utilities still work, but obviously the underlying hidden preference that they give access to no longer works — either it no longer exists or it is ignored by Safari 5.1. And based on this post by Joel Spolsky at AskDifferent, I am not the only one who is encountering this issue and is at a loss as to how to work around it and restore our preferred behaviour. [...]

  2. Pain in the PDF. | Yeti in a box says:

    [...] decision to cut off our options on PDFs with Safari 5.1 stinks. (See Betalogue’s plaint on the loss of PDF downloads). It’s one of many little changes in the Apple marketing sphere (not an ‘ecology’: I [...]

  3. Betalogue » My experience installing Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion) says:

    [...] already written about Apple’s decision to stop allowing users to disable native support for display of PDF documents, which is quite [...]

  4. Betalogue » Safari 5.1: Fails to include PDF metadata when saving PDF file from Safari display says:

    [...] already written about the fact that Safari 5.1 no longer lets you disable the so-called “native” support for display of PDF documents. If you enter the URL for a PDF file in Safari’s address bar and [...]

  5. Betalogue » Safari 5.1.4: Restores ability to disable native support for display of PDF documents says:

    [...] Now that Safari 5.1.4 is officially out, I am pleased to report what I have known since the first builds of this version became available to AppleSeed members, which is that, in this latest version, Apple has restored the ability to disable native support for display of PDF documents, an ability that was removed when Safari 5.1 first came out. [...]