Canada Computer Paper, Inc.,
by Rod Lamirand
Document-management technology is not mature but because of improvements in OCR (optical character recognition) and OLE (object linking and embedding), there is a growing confidence that its time has come
Here we are, after a decade of living on the eve of the paperless office, and most homes and businesses are awash in paper.
Filing cabinets around the world are bulging as never before and everybody is using more paper. We all have printers. Some of us have scanners. Most have a fax. Everybody uses a photocopier. It almost seems that the long-predicted paperless office is a fiction.
The real problem is not simply this paper chase, but the difficulties of trying to manage the voluminous and disparate information that falls upon us, soft and silent, like snow flakes in the night.
We work in a word processor on letters of love or complaint, on schedules or lists. We save E-mail for fear that we might later want to find something or someone. We download from the Internet knowing that there is useful, though not timely, information in our grasp.
And all the while the data builds until one day the baggage is too heavy, the suitcases too numerous. The labels that once seemed clever now turn cryptic. So, with a sigh of regret, the data is taken off the computer and stowed carefully away never to see the light of day again. In the strange world of computers this may all make some kind of sense, but looking at it rationally-what a big mess! This is the very kind of thing that computers were to have saved us from.
That long ago promise of a paperless office has not yet been fulfilled but great strides are finally being made. This technology is not mature but because of improvements in OCR (optical character recognition) and OLE (object linking and embedding), there is a growing confidence that its time has come.
Listed below are a few programs that found their way to the offices of The Computer Paper. They are not all of a kind, nor are they representative of the whole market. Rather, they are a sampling of some of the recent offerings to help you tame the paper tiger that leans so menacingly over your desk.
PageKeeper Windows 2.0
From: Caere Corporation
PageKeeper for Windows 2.0 is a flexible information-management program that will scan, OCR, import, index, organize and/or search almost anything. This is a great product, which is not surprising because it is made by Caere, the makers of omniPage and WordScan (two OCR programs).
The software comes in two parts: the main program, PageKeeper, is the work horse; and PKDirect, is a utility that places a PageKeeper Search command in most applications when it is open. As well, this small program, when running, will place a Send to PageKeeper command that will allow a user to send E-mail, text or a document to PageKeeper without leaving the current program. The install program asks if you would like to run PKDirect on startup which is a good choice for serious users.
As useful as this program is, it is PageKeeper itself that shines. The software can take a document from your scanner and save it as an image, or run it through the excellent OCR software and save it as text, or both! This is useful for poor-quality documents where the scan may incorrectly identify some words and a visual check of the image can correct the mistake.
Saving image-only documents with keywords or notes is straight-forward.
PageKeeper can import plain text, of course, but also dozens of different document types. It had no problem with my Word for Windows documents even though some were Word 6 while others were RTF (rich text format). I did have problems with Word 7 documents but it is always a game of catch-up between new versions of different programs and I am confident that this will change directly.
But all this is routine, let me tell you where I was impressed. PageKeeper gives you the choice of importing text files into itself or leaving the files where they are and creating an external file index-cool. Both techniques can be useful but most programs don't allow either.
PageKeeper will also import certain E-mail message files, notably those that are VIM and/or MAPI compliant such as Microsoft Mail or cc:Mail. This proved a real bonus when I was able to take my E-mail and add it into the database I had built from files saved off the Internet. Oh, didn't I mention that it will download and manage some online files? PageKeeper will import files downloaded from WinCIM (that's CompuServe), Prodigy, AOL, and other major Internet service providers. This program will also import WinFax PRO files and turn the faxes into text documents.
There are other aspects to the program that make it very versatile such as the various search techniques, the easy-to-use drag and drop folder management and manual scan zones but that is a quick look at this program. I have only one small criticism. The search engine doesn't highlight the words it finds. This is a little annoying as the reader is obliged to scan the whole document to find the area of interest.
System requirements are one thing and the reality of what the program really needs is sometimes another. PageKeeper should have a 486 or better, 12 MB RAM and a large swap file. PageKeeper is one of the best programs looked at here, even with the rather cheesy icons.
Contact: Caere Corp., 100 Cooper Ct., Los Gatos, CA, 95030. Tel: 800-535-7226.
askSam for Windows 3.0
From: askSam Systems
MSRP: US$149.95, (US$395 for professional version with full-text indexing)
I look at between 40 and 50 software programs a year and it is rare indeed that I take on a new program for my real-world productivity. askSam is that rare program and I am tickled pink by everything about it.
Never have I seen so much value squeezed into so little space and offered at such a good price. askSam is a fast, free-form, flexible, information-management program. It doesn't do external file indexing or OCR scanning like the bigger and slicker PageKeeper, nor is it very good with image files, but it goes through text files like a seal through salmon-it's quick! The program takes various word processing files (.txt, .rtf, .wpd 5.1 thru 6.1, and .doc 6 to 7 to name some) and converts them to plain-text askSam documents.
Yes, you lose some of your formatting but in exchange you get small file size and great speed. You can also import your Eudora mail files. Thus I was able to automatically and without any trouble bring in my trash mailbox from the last year. At any time, I can do a name, word or number search of all my E-mail correspondence. This is very useful.
The program also allows you to save Web pages and then import them into your database. This is also extremely useful as you often find information and pages that you want to keep. Bookmarking them only gives you a pointer that you may never return to, while saving the page does not allow you to search more than one page at a time.
With askSam I save pages and sites willy-nilly, then every so often import them into my askSam Internet database and they are there. Even better, they maintain their hypertext markup language (HTML) look and feel, they are still hot linked if the link refers to the same page, and clicking on any other link will bring up the Web address and an option to Save to Clipboard. Of course, askSam is also a small but friendly Web page-creation program.
As wonderful as all this is for the home or small office user, the program is also a serious business application. askSam will create reports by searching for words, or numbers, or dates, or equations but even better, it is a great electronic-forms creation and management program.
Lastly, askSam has a number of useful and important functions such as: Date and Time Stamp, database file compression, auto field recognition, multiple enlarge button, telephone caller and more. This is not a big professional program for use with a scanner. This is a small, accurate, fast, useful program that will allow you to put all your data in one place, and actually be able to find and use the information without more work than it's worth, and to add new data from almost anywhere, anytime.
Contact: askSam Systems, PO Box 1428,
Perry, Fla., 32347. Tel: 904-584-6590.
Recollect Gold for Windows
From: MindWorks Corp.
Recollect Gold is a business application that is built for both text- and image-based documents. Recollect imports or scans text or image files to store in an annotated and indexed database. The program has all the major features that you can find in PageKeeper: built in OCR, support for a large number of scanners, document highlighting and image manipulation.
Recollect has a number of import filters for popular word processors and these proved good. The import process has various options and creates a full text index for a number of search techniques.
The aspect of this program which stood out as better than the rest was its excellent management of images. Recollect Gold is very good at dealing with scanned images. The user can add lengthy notation, highlighting, and arrows and even adjust the brightness. Depending on your scanner, the software can deal with a large number of different resolution scans-and color. Recollect performs speedy searches and nicely highlights the words that it finds. The scope of the many types of searches is flexible and over time a user could become quite proficient at finding just the right information in the database.
There is no doubt in my mind that this program is a solid one that would be great for a number of businesses. There is a slew of small yet important features such as its ability to de-skew images, and create and import templates, export files and customizable views.
For all that, there is one aspect of the program I did not like-the interface. Recollect Gold uses the metaphor of folders and drawers-nothing wrong with that. And yet, time and again I would find myself having to refer to the well-written manual to figure something out.
Regardless, there is nothing wrong with the layout of this program, nothing that a few weeks practice wouldn't cure. And perhaps, when an employee had spent some time with it, there would prove to be reasons for certain procedures, steps, ways of getting
from one thing to another. This doesn't change the fact that the program takes some getting used to.
Recollect Gold is a solid business application which handles text and images with equal ease. Good scanner support and software-import capabilities are only slightly offset by an interface that seems a little clumsy.
Recollect Gold only needs a 386-33 and 4 MB RAM to run but prefers a 486-33 or better with 8 MB. Like the others, this program was not specifically written for
Contact: Canadian distributor: Quest Imaging,
MindWorks Corp., Tel: 1-408-730-2100.
From: EZ Image Inc.
MSRP: single user, US$1,495 (multi-user licences available)
EZ Recall is a business program that bills itself as "the complete business records centre solution." That is because this is a hardware/software full-service solution for a small- to medium-sized, company.
I got hold of the software and looked it over. It seems decent enough; however, the value in this type of system is in the day-to-day tracking of large numbers of documents. This company will come into your business and set up only the parts of its system that you need. OCR? Capture of faxes or forms? Storage on CD-ROM, hard drive, optical disk or even COM (computer output to microfiche)? They can allow access to your local area network (LAN) or wide-area network (WAN).
There are great search capabilities and indexing as well as document duplication, copying of data, pasting, notation, date and time stamping. The software can combine OCR and bar coding with template and zone recognition to build custom systems to track almost anything from 18 wheelers to newspaper articles.
The interface itself is simple and Spartan; the functions practical and expected; and the system logical.
If you run a business in which full filing cabinets are being carted up to the back room, requiring a team to be sent in to the room every couple of months to track something down, then this is the program for you.
EZ Image is a smaller company out of Washington State that has some stiff competition but which has a good product and knows its clientele.
Contact: EZ Image Inc., PO Box 73284, Puyallup, Wash., 98373. Tel: 800-677-8333.
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