OmniPage 12: No big news

By all rights, the new version of ScanSoft Inc.'s OmniPage Pro should be Version 11.5 rather than 12. Yes, there are significant improvements in the program, but the improvements are not enough to warrant a full number revision nor are they enough to persuade most users to upgrade.

In fact, the only significant new feature in OmniPage Pro 12 is the ability to export files in Extensible Markup Language format. It's pretty simple: If you need XML support, move to Version 12. If not, sit tight.

That said, if you're not already using OmniPage Pro 11, it's important to note that the program is one of the premier desktop optical character recognition (OCR) programs on the market. And this version offers other marginal enhancements that previous versions don't have.

For starters, ScanSoft officials claim that with Version 12, they've improved OCR accuracy by reducing word errors by 35 percent from Version 11. Given that Version 11 is already more than 99 percent accurate, an additional 35 percent is a negligible improvement.

Also, ScanSoft has tweaked the interface. Some of the changes — including new, larger toolbar buttons — are nonfunctional, and some users may be irritated that the program doesn't allow you to control them. But other changes are welcome.

For example, thumbnails of pages are now displayed in the Image Panel, which runs down the left side of the screen. A new Document Manager window provides details on pages being processed.

These new features enhance one of the best OCR products available. OmniPage Pro recognizes characters in 114 languages and provides dictionary support for 18 languages. It will even handle multiple languages on the same page, with font sizes as small as four points to as large as 72 points.

The program is also strong when it comes to retaining document formats, although it's not quite as strong as its primary competitor, ABBYY Software House's FineReader.

In our tests, OmniPage Pro made more mistakes compared with FineReader when handling skewed text, tables and colored backgrounds. Unlike FineReader, OmniPage Pro can't read text that runs vertically, such as along columns or with tables.

As with the previous version of OmniPage Pro, the scanning and recognition process is simple to configure and perform. The toolbar makes it simple to set options for each stage of the process, including whether you're processing single or multiple pages, or performing automatic or manual zoning, in which users select which part of the page to scan.

And we do appreciate the program's new zoning tools. New on-the-fly zoning enables you to change zoning without having to reprocess the entire page. And we also found it easier to split and join zones.

ScanSoft officials also claim that Version 12 can better process Adobe Systems Inc. Acrobat PDF files. We were not able to detect any significant improvements in our tests, however. Although OmniPage Pro did a decent job of recognizing the text in our test PDF files, retention of page formatting was not at all good. If recognition and format retention of PDF files are major considerations for your department or agency, FineReader is a better choice.

Finally, we were disappointed to find that OmniPage Pro doesn't offer direct manual control over scanning resolution. The program's documentation suggests that certain documents' OCR might be improved by increasing the scan resolution, yet it fails to explain how to do so. We were also disappointed to find that ScanSoft only provides free telephone support for a single problem. After that, each incident costs $19.95.

Make no mistake — OmniPage Pro is a first-rate desktop OCR program. The ScanSoft product has two major advantages over its main competitor: the ability to schedule unattended jobs, a feature that will make it an attractive option for many departments and agencies, and the ability to save files in XML format. At the same time, we were disappointed to see the increase in the product's price. Unless your organization needs XML support, the case for upgrading is not strong.

REPORT CARD

OmniPage Pro 12

Score: B+

ScanSoft Inc.

(978) 977-2000

www.scansoft.com

The list price is $599. Government agencies receive a 15 percent discount. This promotional price is available to government agencies through September.

Although ScanSoft raised the price by $100, it has added little to persuade existing users to upgrade to this new version of OmniPage Pro. Users who need to save files in Extensible Markup Language format will find the new version compelling, but other users will probably want to pass.

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