Two Strong OCR Contenders

After years of widespread competition, the desktop optical character recognition (OCR) market has come to be dominated by two products: Caere Corp.'s OmniPage and ScanSoft Inc.'s TextBridge.

To test OmniPage and TextBridge, we scanned the same set of 50 typewritten, magazine and spreadsheet pages.

OmniPage emerged as the decided winner, but TextBridge was a strong contender that may be better suited to agencies or departments with novice users.

Thanks in part to the recent incorporation of newly acquired technologies from Calera Recognition Systems Inc. and Recognita Corp., Caere's OmniPage Pro 10 has become the standard to beat in desktop OCR. The program's accuracy in our tests with Microsoft Corp. Word documents was almost perfect (making, for example, only two mistakes on an 800-cell spreadsheet).

Overall, OmniPage turned in an accuracy rate of more than 99 percent on our tests. Moreover, OmniPage is especially strong at handling degraded pages, such as faxes that have not printed clearly. Additionally, OmniPage did a fine job maintaining elements of original pages, including font characteristics and sizes, column layout and color graphics.

The bottom line: The strides Caere has made in improving OCR accuracy and OmniPage's usability, along with its low upgrade price, make the program an excellent choice.

TextBridge Pro 9.0 Business Edition, introduced in June 1999, runs nose to nose with the previous release of OmniPage (9.0) in features. Moreover, TextBridge held up well in our testing--matching the accuracy of OmniPage 10 on some pages.

Perhaps the biggest draw of this version, though, centers on four Portable Document Format output options. With one option, when TextBridge encountered a suspect word, it substituted the actual scanned image in the finished Adobe Systems Inc. Acrobat file to maintain the document's integrity.

Other PDF options enable you to save converted files with no word images or, conversely, render the entire page as an image. Pages exported to Hypertext Markup Language closely resembled originals, but TextBridge doesn't have the World Wide Web site building capability found in OmniPage.

-- Mike Heck


Principia's Web Survey Adequate for Basic Tasks

The move toward cutting paperwork in government and the capacity of the Internet to produce a wealth of statistical and market data may seem to be at odds. They converge, however, in the arena of online surveys and forms. Eliminating the paper in the process not only saves labor and trees but also cuts down on the error rate, as many agencies and departments are discovering.

A recent entrant in the market for World Wide Web-based survey software is Principia Products Inc.'s Remark Web Survey Version 1.0. Principia's main line of business has been optical mark recognition (OMR) software for reading and processing surveys, tests and other mark-sense forms. In fact, according to the company, Remark Web Survey will work seamlessly with Remark Office OMR ($449) to provide a combination of paper and Web survey tools, including analysis of results.

This first version of Remark Web Survey provides useful basic survey creation and Web publishing tools. The package, however, falls short of its competition in analyzing survey responses.

Web Survey's easy-to-use tools made it a snap to create straightforward, visually appealing surveys. The tools feature a general-purpose Form Wizard that walks users through the process from start to finish. If you want to forgo the wizard, you can use built-in tools independently to create or modify form elements.

As you create a form, you can view it in any of three windows. The first is a hierarchical tree format known as the Design view, for which I found little use in my testing. A Browser window allows viewing the finished product as it will look on the Web and appears to be a custom implementation of Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer (Version 4.0 or higher of Explorer is required). You also can view your form as raw HTML in the Source window, but it cannot be edited.

For the most part, the design elements provided within Remark Web Survey are sufficient, if a bit elementary. Included are controls for font characteristics and styles, indents, inclusion of images and line elements, as well as Submit and Reset buttons. It was nice, however, to find a few features that were more advanced. One was the ability to easily group related questions so that their response fields appear in columns under labels that apply to the entire group. This feature was provided automatically when we checked the "Allow grouped questions" option.

We also could add hidden fields for use with preset (automated) responses, such as a questionnaire identification number.

Unfortunately, users will look in vain for features that are more advanced. There are no question libraries, custom tab order between fields, branching of questions and response validation rules.

You can open the file in an HTML editor or text processor, but once you edit the file as HTML, you won't be able to reopen that version in Remark Web Survey.

A server component is included to assist in installing and administering Web-based surveys. This involves a pair of Common Gateway Interface scripts in Perl, which provide administration and data collection capabilities on Unix and Microsoft Windows-based Web servers. (Perl Version 5.004 or later is required on the server.) Those scripts must be edited minimally prior to use, principally to specify the proper paths to components.

Most Web-enabled survey design tools also provide some analysis of results, but this is where Remark Web Survey falters the most. This package provides only a total number of submissions and the amount of time since the survey was last accessed. At $449, Remark Office OMR reportedly adds statistical analysis, graphing and charts at a combined price roughly equivalent to most of the competition.

All this means that Remark Web Survey is no bargain, especially if you need even rudimentary response analysis. But if your agency is a user of Remark Office OMR, or you just want to use some of the easiest tools available for creating effective Web-based surveys, it is inexpensive enough to take for a spin.

-- Tom Marshall


FileMaker Pro 5.0 Good for Simple Desktop Data Tasks

FileMaker Pro 5.0 is adept at fulfilling common database tasks you might need in a desktop or small workgroup database, such as importing external data and searching, adding or changing records. Be forewarned, however, that FileMaker Pro does little to support functionality beyond the small workgroup. In this release, FileMaker Pro can support 25 users in a client/server setting or up to 10 World Wide Web-based users accessing data via their browsers.

FileMaker Pro does offer a scripting facility--ScriptMaker. However, the database needs to offer interoperability with development languages, such as Java and Perl, and database tools, such as those used for data transformation. Moreover, FileMaker Pro is limited to users in Microsoft Corp. Windows and Apple Computing Inc.'s Macintosh settings.

During our tests, FileMaker Pro performed at acceptable speeds. Although we did not perform a formal benchmark, FileMaker Pro matched rival Corel Corp.'s Paradox and was slightly slower than Microsoft's Access 2000.

If you need data connectivity, FileMaker Pro supports open database connectivity (ODBC) drivers. However, the drivers require that FileMaker Pro and the target table both be opened before making any connection. That's unlike ODBC support in other database products, and it increases the effort users will need to put forth to get data from other sources.

FileMaker Pro is a fine choice if you need an easy-to-use database to quickly handle simple desktop data tasks or exchange data with others in a small workgroup setting. However, lack of direct data integration, limited development language and tool interoperability combined with narrow platform support leave FileMaker Pro somewhat lacking in larger settings.

-- Maggie Biggs


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