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The twelfth version of ScanSoft's OmniPage Pro Office shows the competition just who's boss. Other optical character recognition (OCR) programs, such as Abbyy’s FineReader 6.0, can't quite keep up with OmniPage's simplicity and power. OmniPage can easily retain complex page layouts, for example, where other OCR applications cannot. What's more, OmniPage Pro is designed to help you publish converted information to paper, electronic files or even the Web. The program reads and writes PDFs and a long list of other formats, and it contains powerful network features that let you share scanners and install the program from a server. It's arguably the best OCR package available today, well suited to small and large businesses alike. However, if your budget can't spare £435 (ex. VAT), consider the slightly less accurate but much less expensive FineReader 6.0.
Once you begin the OmniPage installation, you'll have the program ready to run in a matter of minutes. If you purchased the downloadable version, launch the install program; otherwise, just pop in the CD and you're almost done. You must enter a serial number, but OmniPage doesn't entangle you in an awkward registration or verification processes. Once you start the program, you can let a setup wizard guide you through the steps of preparing a conversion job or use the toolbar to do it yourself. Then you can either control each individual step manually or choose the large 1-2-3 button (located above the main panes) to automate the process.
Version 12's clutter-free main screen displays three vertical windows, with a fourth minimised at the bottom. The panel to the left (located within a larger window called the Image Panel) displays thumbnails of pages you've scanned so that you can easily access them at will. Also in the Image Panel, the middle window divides the page currently being analysed into separate zones for different types of OCR analysis -- text, graphics or tables. For your convenience, the right-hand window (the Text Editor) displays the post-OCR page so that you can proofread it. You can also view it with or without formatting by clicking one of three buttons: True Page View, Retain Fonts And Paragraph View, and No Formatting View.
By default, the Document Manager window sits minimised at the bottom of the screen. Enlarged, it displays details about the pages you're scanning, such as the page name, the number of characters and the number of suspect words. After the OCR process, OmniPage proofreads your document, then another window opens on top of the rest, showing words that are questionable or not found in the program's dictionary, suggested replacements and a magnified view of the scanned image so that you can see what the original looked like. Also -– and this is really cool -- OmniPage's computerised voices can read a scanned document back to you so that you can identify incorrect words by ear.
As in the past, OmniPage Pro 12 works with any scanner or camera that has a TWAIN driver (most such devices do). If your scanner has an automatic document feeder, you can set OmniPage to scan multi-page documents. Even better, in addition to scanned images and PDFs, OmniPage runs OCR on files saved in most graphics formats (including TIF, BMP, PCX, DCX, JPG, GIF, and XIF) and saves scanned pages as RTF and Adobe Acrobat files, as well as in various word-processor and even eBook formats.
During our rigorous scanning tests, OmniPage Pro 12 Office handled table-data translations well, not only capturing the content but also reproducing the correct fonts and formatting. With long stretches of text, it made remarkably few recognition errors -- far fewer than FineReader. But OmniPage Pro occasionally got text formatting wrong. For example, in a few instances, OmniPage accidentally italicised the letter or word following an italicised word. And OmniPage translated an all-bold sentence erratically -- some words in bold, others plain. At times, even point sizes or fonts in the scanned version differed from those of the original.
Business should take note of OmniPage Pro's network capabilities. For example, you can set OmniPage to work with networked scanners, and the program's multi-user licensing lets administrators install it across a local network to any or all connected computers. Whether you run OmniPage Pro on one or many single computers, you'll appreciate the scheduler utility that lets you set recognition jobs to execute at a later time, such as overnight. Since OCR programs are processor-intensive, running them overnight will let you work in other applications during the day, without compromising your PC’s performance.
If OmniPage Pro 12 gives you trouble, don't worry. ScanSoft provides a clearly written and well-illustrated manual with thorough explanations of the program’s features and an extensive troubleshooting section. The company's Web site contains extensive support materials, and you can contact technical support by email and phone (from 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday).
Although home users can certainly take advantage of OmniPage Pro 12 Office's power, you won't get your money's worth if you don't regularly need to scan and convert documents. On the other hand, businesses of all sizes will find this program indispensible. At £435 (ex. VAT) it’s expensive, but few will pay that price. The competitive upgrade cost is £152.74 (ex. VAT), and almost anyone with a scanner will qualify for this since most come with a starter version of some OCR package. Compared to Abbyy’s £81 (ex.VAT) FineReader 6.0 Professional, OmniPage costs a bit more, but its performance and versatile features easily offset the price difference.