28 February 2014

558. More options for PDF annotation: Master PDF Editor and I, Librarian

This is an update to my previous posts (here and here) about annotating PDFs on Linux.

Master PDF Editor
The linux version of this software is free and closed source. It will not run on Debian Wheezy, as it requires glibc >= 2.14, whereas Wheezy has version 2.13. You can either pull in a newer libc from testing, or simply use testing (Jessie). See here for how to use glibc > 2.13 on wheezy: http://verahill.blogspot.com.au/2014/03/562-pulling-in-glibc-214-from-testing.html

So I tried it on Jessie.

While it almost works, I can't prevent the program from screwing up the fonts in the process. Also, the annotations don't show up in acroread for some reason. Saving as PDF/A didn't make any positive difference.

The annotation shows up in evince -- but the font's weird now

Same goes for Xournal

In acrobat reader before editing with Master PDF Editor
in acrobat reader after adding an annotation. The annotation doesn't show up, but the fonts are screwed up.

So we're almost there -- Master PDF Editor does everything I want in terms of PDF annotation, but at least on linux there are issues with the fonts in the resulting PDFs.

I, Librarian
I, Librarian is both free and open source. It claims to be web-based -- which is true but can be misunderstood. What it means is that it is browser-based and runs a server on your computer. My first thought when I see 'web-based' is that I'm handing over my data to someone else, but luckily that's not the case here.

I installed the .deb file meant for ubuntu.

Using I, Librarian is quite straight forward, but I could not see the annotations in any other program that I tried, which makes it of little use for me -- I make annotations in galley drafts for journal editors, and for students to give them feedback on latex documents.

Either way, to start, just go to

Make sure to edit the settings to make I, Librarian use the internal pdf viewer in order for editing to work.

No matter what I did, I could not export my pinned annotations though. They did not show up in either evince or acroread.


  1. Thank you for your reviews, they are very useful.
    I am using linux since many years (but just reached intermediate knowledge of it) and I did not find a good solution yet for my needs (annotating, bookmarking and mind-mapping files at the same time), although I guess I found the right tool (but it requires some training), which is Docear (formerly Sci Plore) [http://www.docear.org/ ]
    I am not affiliated in any way with them nor this post is intended to be kind of commercial spam, so please feel free to discard it if you consider it inappropriate.
    I just wanted to share the information...maybe waiting for a review!
    (IMHO that is definitely the way to go, I should take the time to learn how to use it).
    I hope you will find it useful.
    Best Regards

    1. Guido,
      thank you for the suggestion. It seems that the closest comparison to docear would be other reference management software such as mendeley.

      Their post on different reference management software is quite interesting though: http://www.docear.org/2013/10/14/what-makes-a-bad-reference-manager/

      If nothing else they do a good job of selling jabref...

  2. dear verahill / lindqvist
    thank you for your answer.

    I also find the proposed comparison very interesting, and they offer convincing arguments for promoting their product (one could agree or not), which is (up to now) completely free (!)

    Definitely Docear is far more than a simple reference manager as it integrates a reference manager (namely JabRef) with a mind mapping program (namely Freeplane) plus other features.
    This way one can have a more sophisticated management of her/his work, in particular by creating a visual representation (a "mind map" with different topics and their connections) which can be directly connected not only to a PDF file but also to specific page(s) inside it.

    It is also possible to associate images, notes, websites, etc.. to different nodes of the map, so having a richer overview of the subject.
    The only little problem is that it requires a longer learning curve, nevertheless I think those features make it far more attractive than a simple PDF annotation tool and/or reference manager, as it can significantly change the way of working (either alone or in a collaborative way).

    I also work in academic field (in the humanities) and I am also prefer sometimes remain kind of anonymous (even though this makes harder tracking back your answers as I have to manually check the page!)

    I hope one of us (or possibly both) could go on using Docear, then giving a feedback (I'll try to do it by the end of this year).


  3. Just wanted to thank you for the detailed review (both here and last year's post). I'm facing the same problems with currently the most painful issue being deleting/check-marking comments that I get from peers.
    Following your post, Master PDF Editor at least allows me to delete any comment/annotation that I handle (something that Okular, for some reason does not allow) so it is the best current solution...