There was a time when I used to scan in a lot of documents. You’d go to an event or conference and people would give you handouts. If they were any use, you might scan in the text so you had it easily available. These days, there’s less and less need for that because people don’t print off 50 copies of a document, they give you a link to an online PDF. So if you do have scanning software, you want it to be pretty amazing.
Of course, HP sells lots of ‘all-in-one’ scanner/copier/printer units to the home market. So those people are going to want OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software to convert scanned documents to something that is useful. I’m sure many parents can help their children with homework by scanning in text and images and reproducing that in a different format for school’s consumption.
So, let’s suppose you go out and purchase the latest version of Nuance’s OmniPage Ultimate, what do you get? Well, to start with you get an installation that irritatingly launches Google Chrome in an attempt to register the software. By the time I’d cancelled that and put the address into Firefox, my software had given up registering and said it would try again in 7 days. Not an auspicious start.
I then launched the software expecting some user-friendly front end that would talk me through what I wanted to do. ’Fraid not. I connected the software to my scanner easily enough. I clicked around a lot expecting to find some way to scan in a document. After 10 minutes I just gave up – it didn’t seem to want to do that. In fact, it isn’t designed to do that. So I scanned in a document in my usual way and saved it as a JPG. I then opened that in OmniPage. It was a mixture of text and images. And the OCR was perfect. OK it wasn’t the hardest document to read, but it was still perfect – down to the last semi-colon. I then tried the speech output – trying out the different voices available – and that was well done. It read the text nicely. I could listen on any mobile device (tablet or smartphone) to it reading – so long as the device supported mp3 files. I later converted a long PDF document, I’d been sent, to mp3 and listened to it on my tablet – brilliant.
A program that comes with OmniPage Ultimate is Launchpad. This looks a bit Windows 8ish and uses tiled action buttons to speed up the process of converting documents and sending them to any destination. This is obviously an attempt to freshen up the user interface – and it works.
What makes Ultimate more than just an OCR engine is that it can convert PDFs and digital photos of text into files that users can edit/search/share. Plus, it can convert those into mp3 speech audio files that can stored on mobile devices (as I mentioned above). It means that you can listen to a document on the go, rather than trying to read it. File types it can save as includes: Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint 2007, PDF, HTML, and Corel WordPerfect.
One clever new feature is that users can convert documents so they can be read with eBook applications on the Android tablets, Microsoft Surface, iPad,Nook Simple Touch, Nook Tablet, Sony Reader PRS-350/PRS-650/PRS-950, Kobo eReader, Kobo Touch and Kobo Arc.
The press release also point out that Ultimate can convert “documents stored in Windows Live SkyDrive, GoogleDocs, Evernote, Box, Dropbox, and many more when integrated with Nuance Cloud Connector. OmniPage connects with Microsoft SharePoint and DMS, and features new support for Open Text Hummingbird Connector, and Autonomy-Interwoven iManage Connector”.
Also of interest to some people will be the fact that Ultimate is accessible in “more than 100 languages. OmniPage Ultimate includes the recognition of languages based on the Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic alphabets as well as Chinese, Japanese and Korean, languages enabling users from around the world to access, edit and manage documents”.
So, apart from the registration annoyance and the old-fashioned user interface (although Launchpad helps modernize things), it is a very powerful piece of software with very good character recognition success (I tested a fair few scans and PDFs before I wrote this) that makes documents available for editing and sharing. The OmniPage file can be exported as mp3 as well as HTML and the usual Office programs. I must admit, the product grew on me, the more I used it and the more familiar I became with it.
You can find out more at www.nuance.com/for-business/by-product/omnipage/ultimate/index.htm.