Changing the default PDF viewer

Last week a friend sent me a PDF that had some rich content embedded in it; a small video that Mac Preview would not let me see. I really like Preview but figured I might as well grab the free Acrobat Reader so that I could view the more advanced PDFs people were creating.

 Adobe Acrobat Reader is a pretty big install but after doing so I was able to see the PDF file - and its embedded video - just fine. There was a catch though; Acrobat is slower than Preview and now it was my default PDF viewer.

For the life of me I could not figure out how to make Preview my default viewer again. I right clicked on a PDF file and from the pop-up menu selected Open With - the sub menu that appeared allowed me to open it in Preview but not set that as the default.

At this point I did what I always do - Google up the problem and look for a solution. One of the first solutions I found was to use RCDefaultApp - a preferences pane add-in that allows you to see and set the default applications for file types, MIME types, etc. It worked great but I kept thinking that it was silly that I would need an add-on in order to do this. I am going to keep RCDefaultApp around though - it's pretty handy.

Finally, the way to do it in OS X
I finally managed to find it with a little more Google work. Right click on a file, select Get Info and, at the bottom of the Get Info window was an "Open With" area. From there I could see and set the default viewer and also click the Change All button to change it for everything.

Not long after I put this up Jerome put in a comment that you can hold down the Option key while right clicking and the menu selection changes to Always Open With - no need to even go into the Get Info window. Thanks Jerome!

Now I can see my PDFs quickly in the native Preview application and use Acrobat Reader when I need the extra features it affords.


To get around the speed issue with the Acrobat reader you could always use quicklook to view everyday vanilla PDFs (select file in finder, then hit the space bar) and double click the more complex ones to open in Acrobat by default.
Jerome said…
To reenable preview as your default viewer... just hold option key while you "right clik" on the pdf file. The popup menu will change from "open with" to "always open with...
In general matter, hold option key to change the menus contents. So you don't need RCDefaultapp anymore ;-)
David Alison said…
@jerome: Great tip man, thanks! I just updated the main post since not everyone reads these comments.
Dylan said…
This is one that MS got right. Going into the Get Info screen or holding a modifier key isn't obvious. Changing the default app for a file type is a common enough activity that it deserves a more obvious path to change it via the Open With context menu.
David Alison said…
@Dylan: Actually - OS X supports the exact same model that MS does in XP - you can right click on a file and choose "Other" at the bottom, then select a programs and say that it will be the default application moving forward.

The problem was that when I tried that it didn't stick! That was frustrating.
Chris Howard said…
Dave, having installed Acrobat Reader, you'll probably encounter another problem. It will have become your default PDF viewer in Safari.

Check this tip on MacForums to see how to change it back.

How to make Safari stop using Acrobat for PDF preview

You can also change Safari to automatically open PDFs in the external viewer (I'll let you search for that.) And if you haven't worked it out yet, you can right click on open PDF in Safari and choose to open it in Preview (or presumably Acrobat if it's still your default.)
David Alison said…
@Chris: Thanks for the tip, though when I set the default reader back to Preview I think it also changed the MIME type for PDF as well. Right after I reset it I visited a site with a PDF and it loaded properly through Safari.

This may be a function of the newer OS X version I am running - not sure.
Unknown said…
You can also stop Adobe Reader opening PDFs in Safari by opening adobe reader, going to preferences; internet; and de-selecting the check box for "display PDF in browser using" and that solves the problem too.
matthewcox said…
Thanks David! I have been agonizing over how to bring preview back as my default viewer for pdf's for weeks and each search has led me down the wrong path. The "change all" in the info panel is so hidden, I don't know that I ever would have found it. Thanks again!

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