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I'm imagining something deeper than pdftotext (part of poppler-utils), because what I was imaging would be possible, would be to retain most of the layout on a virtual page, e.g. pipe this through a pager like most, and then possibly even get symbol-based replacements of simple graphics and such.

A chain of commands that you commonly use, or a script, would be really interesting to see.

I've added the word "common" to the question, to avoid asking a question that requires too much opinion, which is against the Stack Exchange ethos.

A big priority here would be if the solution was totally portable, like for example to use even in single-user mode on a Mac, for example.

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pdftotext does have a -layout option:

   -layout
          Maintain  (as  best  as  possible) the original physical
          layout of the text.  The default is to  ´undo'  physical
          layout  (columns, hyphenation, etc.) and output the text
          in reading order.

It doesn't do graphics though.

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