Evince: So close, yet so far.

Posted by Jack on 2011-04-07 at 20:18
Tagged: software

EDIT: Suddenly my Evince 3.0.0 (according to Arch 3.0.0-3) has started naming bookmarks with the current / first new section on the page. Kudos to whoever fixed that, although the help still claims there's no such thing as a bookmark =). 7 May 2011

Let it be known that I'm a bit of a PDF power user. Not because I wanted to be, but because my job suddenly started entailing reading 1000 page specs that are held together with nothing but blinding seas of jargon. Being that they're usually new CPU user manuals and SoC programming references, they're also extremely useful... when you can find the information that you need.

So, it was with open arms that I embraced Evince's new 3.0 feature: bookmarks. It's only been recently that I've started to need this feature, but a quick Google indicates people have been WTFing over Evince not supporting bookmarks since it was created. The F1 help (which as of this writing on Arch Linux still says that bookmarking isn't supported) notes that you can use annotations as bookmarks, but it seems to me that they're fundamentally different things and, even if they weren't, the PDFs I'm reading seem to have hundreds of blank annotations. I'm not sure if that's Evince's fault (not all PDFs have it), if the annotations are real, or if the person generating the PDFs is just using a crappy PDF generator.

After installing Evince 3.0, I decided to give bookmarks a spin. I scrolled to a useful page in one of my specs (a page describing the minutiae of some bits in a hardware table that I've been using recently). Seeing the new "Bookmarks" menu, I simply clicked "Add Bookmark" (Ctrl+D would've sufficed as well). Then, clicking the same menu, I got a bookmark listed: "Page 250". Right clicking it had no abilities, there was no apparent way to edit the bookmark. Gah. "Page 250" is almost worthless as a bookmark, especially since I had like 10-15 other bookmarks I wanted to make. Bookmarks shouldn't force a user to shuffle through them all just to figure out what they are.

Bad Bookmark

But wait!

But I didn't give up there. The "Bookmarks" menu makes it totally non-obvious, but in the Evince sidepane (hit F9 or View->Sidepane) you can now select a "Bookmarks" selection from the pull down. From that list of bookmarks, you can right click and actually rename / remove your bookmarks.

Menu with real options

After renaming, they then show up properly in the "Bookmarks" menu.

For shits I decided to try it out on some other, non-work PDFs from random places on the internet. No dice for the bookmarks. Not that it tells you why it can't create bookmarks, but from the look of it, Evince can only bookmark PDFs that support embedding them. I can't be too disappointed because it doesn't look like FoxIt or Acroread can do it either. Both of them seem to think "bookmarks" are chapter and section headings which is stupid. Nonetheless, I was hoping for a [gd]conf / ~/.config/evince solution that would work generically with all PDFs and versions.

So, in the end, the new feature is nice ... after you learn to use the sidepane for it, and only if the PDF you're using happens to support it.

For reference, the failing PDFs were (for some reason) all PDF 1.4, optimized, with no security and the work PDFs were 1.6, optimized, no security. I'm guessing that it comes down to the PDF version, but I could be wrong.