Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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October 2005, Week 4 -- Head to Head
                                 and Other Odd Positions




 FineReader 8

   Caution: There's some heavy slogging ahead.


   We're going to compare the two leading OCR programs: ABBYY Fine Reader and ScanSoft OmniPage. Because, after all, knowing how to read is important -- even for a computer.


   OCR stands for Optical Character Recognition, and the name of the game is to recognize as many characters as possible. These programs have gotten very good at turning paper into digital documents.


   It used to be that 98 percent accuracy was something to brag about. But in the real world, that meant you had four to five errors a page, which starts to mount up quickly. Now these programs have hardly any errors.






   We started out by scanning a page from The Economist magazine (page 77 of the Oct. 8, 2005, issue). It had a page-width photograph, a bar chart, and was printed in three colors.


   Both programs had trouble with the bar chart. ABBYY Fine Reader captured all the bars, but not the text alongside; ScanSoft got the text but only two of the four bars in the chart. As for the picture and text, both were essentially perfect, with the only problem being not handling the dropped capital at the beginning of the article, a trivial error.




   Right off the bat this showed us how little difference there is between these two programs. So we tried to separate them by features:



OmniPage 15 





  ABBYY offers free tech support; ScanSoft is free for the first call, but $20 for each call after that.


  ABBYY has an "eraser"; ScanSoft doesn't. What the eraser feature does is let you remove extraneous smudges or borders and the dark line that appears at the edge when scanning folded documents.


  ScanSoft is $100 cheaper, listing for $500 for the professional version versus $600 for the comparable ABBYY. ScanSoft also has a basic version that does almost everything you would normally want from an OCR for a list price of $150. This cheaper version saves a scanned page in almost any format, including saving the text as an audio book.




   One of the most interesting things these new OCR programs can do is scan photographs. We don't mean it can make a copy of a picture; we mean it can "read" the picture. This can be useful.




   You can use a camera to take notes, for example. If you're doing research in a library or museum, just take a picture of any page or poster and transfer it to the computer for an OCR read.




   We used a 2-megapixel-resolution camera, about the same as you would get with a cell phone camera, to photograph a page from PC World magazine. Both programs could read the text but had some trouble with the graphics. A higher-resoution image would probably fix that.




   All versions of ScanSoft OmniPage include a Google Desktop Search tool, which lets you find a particular word or phrase in any file you've scanned, a very handy feature. OmniPage lets you scan a paper form and then turn it into an electronic form that can be filled out on screen.




   The professional versions of both programs are network compatible. You can designate a folder on the network to be monitored by the program. As soon as images are added to the folder from any member of the team, the program will automatically start processing them.




   What does it all boil down to? If your OCR needs are pretty much standard, you're best off saving some money and buying the ScanSoft basic version for $150. If price doesn't matter, you get more features with the ABBYY program. This is a close call. Web sites: and




Handy Business Website




   We found a nice new business Web site, Eliteweb, at




   This place is huge. We started with getting the news and weather. We liked the news tab marked "odd," where we picked up a news item about a man who kept 300 birds in his home, not all of them live. (He was picked up, too.) You can create a club, share photos, post messages, maintain a message board, event calendar and generally keep everybody posted. You get an e-mail address and your own Web site.




   This was all free. For $10 a month you can get going on some serious business services. You can do e-mail marketing, create custom newsletters, schedule employees, recruit people and build Web sites. You can use Elite's ready-made templates or it will create a new one for you at no extra charge. There's a lot of stuff here, well worth a look.



Thatís Entertainment






   "Fable, The Lost Chapters," by Lionhead Studios and Microsoft; $50, for the PC.


   This is an adventure game based on the award-winning "Fable," originally created for the Xbox console. It was named Game of the Year by Play Magazine and this version, written for a full-size computer, has lots of additional material. You start as a child and grow older in this game, your appearance and skills changing as you age. You can play a good guy or a bad one, and characters in the game will react to you accordingly. The game requires 3 gigabytes of free hard disk space.



   Visual Basic





   "Visual Basic 2005 Jumpstart" by Wei-Meng Lee; $15 from


   VB 2005 is Microsoft's latest upgrade to its popular Visual Basic 6. This is an important program, and a huge number of applications have been written in Visual Basic. Once it was so slow that programmers shied away from using it, but fast processors and large memories have made the run time more or less irrelevant.