As much as we’d like to maintain a paperless lifestyle, it’s still pretty difficult to get by purely in the digital realm. Whether we’re being sent bills in the mail or given handouts at a conference, paper still surrounds us every day of our lives. If you do wish to maintain a paperless lifestyle, you could always scan in those documents and save them as images, but that becomes messy fairly quickly, and you can’t annotate an image either. So, what’s the answer? Optical character recognition. More commonly known as ‘OCR’, this technique is exactly what Nuance uses in its OmniPage software, which allows you to scan in your documents and have them converted to editable, digital files.
Unlike other Nuance products we’ve tested in the past, such as PDF Converter for Windows and for the Mac, you’ll need to be a little (or a lot) patient with OmniPage during the setup process, as it clearly thinks you have all the time in the world to spare. After installing various packages, including two installations of Visual C++ 2005 AND 2010 – both in 32-bit and in 64-bit – you’ll eventually be able to get going and actually install the program before you begin to scan in your documents. Installation took over 15 minutes for me on the machine that I used to test the software, so you may want to put the kettle on while you wait. Twice.
Once OmniPage is installed, you will be able to access it through the start menu or a shortcut on your desktop if you chose to place one there. When you open the software, you will be presented with a start page which contains lots of quick links to functions that you are most likely to use. From here, you can choose to take a PDF and convert it to a plethora of other formats such as MS Word or Excel files, or create a searchable PDF from a scanned document. If you’re recording documents on the go, you’ll probably find yourself using the ‘Camera Image to…’ function, so this is where I started with my testing. If you don’t want to transfer the picture from your phone camera, then OmniPage’s cloud options which can connect to your Dropbox or Skydrive will help massively here too.
Once you have loaded you image in the application, you have a number of options. If some of the image is a little unclear, there is an enhance tool that you can take advantage of which includes tools such as cropping, changing the brightness and saturation, and editing the OCR brightness too. When you’re done, you can simply click on the ‘automatic’ button at the top of the window, unless you want to specify how the document should be laid out. The program will then scan your document, and you can export it to a file such as .rtf that you can open in a word processing application.
The results of the OCR were fairly good, and most of the words in the document were recognised without any issues. The document was well formatted, and similar fonts were used throughout too. As long as there isn’t any shadowing on the document and you have a decent camera, then OmniPage will definitely do a good job for you. Whether it’s worth the £80 asking price depends on how much you will use it of course, but there is some great technology in this program, and despite the painfully long installation, it’s a breeze to use without any messing around.