OmniForm 5.0: Forms done well

Anyone who has ever worked in any size department knows all too well the sheer volume of information collected and used each day via paper forms. Programs that have promised to turn those paper forms into digital forms have, alas, fallen woefully short of the mark.

With the new version of OmniForm from ScanSoft Inc., however, the task is no longer so burdensome.

The premise behind OmniForm Premium 5.0 is incredibly simple. By either converting existing paper forms via an attached scanner or image file or by starting from scratch with the included full suite of tools capable of creating any type of form, users will find forms that are easier to modify and use, and less likely to contain errors.

Composed of three distinct pieces — a designer, a filler/data manager and access to the company's Web-hosting service — OmniForm comes ready to use out of the box. And although you might have looked at the product before, this latest release begs for attention thanks to numerous enhancements in form design and data management.

In the area of form design, for example, the product now enables users to employ digital signatures and work with documents as large as 14 inches by 17 inches. What's more, files saved as PDFs are now more intelligent, offering full support for calculations, field validations and signature fields.

With respect to data management, attachments such as images can now be included as part of the form record. Additionally, thanks to user and client profiles, previously entered form data can be retrieved and entered automatically, further reducing input time.

Installation of the program was easy. Launching the application brought me to the Forms Assistant. By selecting the option to scan an image, I was given a choice of whether I wanted to control the forms design, which I did, or simply use it for data input.

Once the conversion of the scanned image was complete, I was presented with yet another helpful aid: the Proofreader Wizard. I found it a breeze to use the tool's ability to adjust colors, verify field names and restore blank lines mistaken for fields. The solution also proved to be quite adept at handling such challenges as italics, bold text and even light text on dark backgrounds.

Should you choose to create a form from scratch, the program also includes 27 widely used sample forms, such as those for changes of address, employment applications and fax cover sheets that can easily be used or modified to jump-start usage. For those not finding what they need or want out of the box, the ScanSoft Web site provides numerous other templates that are available for downloading for free.

With the forms completed to my satisfaction, the only task that remained was propagating them for use. OmniForm supports a number of formats, including Rich Text Format, HTML/ dynamic HTML, PDF, and two of the company's propriety formats, Mailable Filler and OFM. Each has its own merits, but ScanSoft OFM provides the most functionality, including the ability to package the form along with an executable runtime.

Should you decide not to host the forms yourself, OmniForm also provides a fee-based Secure Sockets Layer e-form hosting site, where users can post, use and collect form data from anywhere in the world. To allow customers to try out this service, OmniForm buyers are entitled to five forms for the first year, with limitations set at 256 fields and 10,000 filled records per form.

Better yet, this can be done with a simple press of a button — no programming experience or support is required from information technology departments.

I found OmniForm Premium 5.0 an excellent tool for any department looking to reduce costs. The program's low cost, capability to create secure forms and ease of use make it worth a look.

Fielden is a freelance writer based in St. Paul, Minn. He can be reached at tfielden@attbi.com.

REPORT CARD

OmniForm Premium 5.0

Score: B+

ScanSoft Inc.

(800) 535-7226

www.scansoft.com

OmniForm retails for $699.

Departments looking to capitalize on the return that comes with converting paper-based forms to digital formats would do well to consider OmniForm Premium 5.0.

Although it may lack certain features, such as integration with more robust form management solutions, its low entry cost, easy-to-use interface and capability to create secure forms make it quite appealing. OmniForm supports Microsoft Corp. Windows 95, 98, NT, Me and 2000.

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