How a new scanner and software could reshape corporate communications


January 24, 1994|By Joshua Mills | Joshua Mills,New York Times News Service

Scanning is essentially the computer printing process run backward, with images and text on paper being captured as electronic documents. It is used mostly in desktop publishing and page design.

But a new hardware-and-software package from a small Silicon Valley company may make scanning a tool for corporate communications.

Visioneer, of Palo Alto, Calif., will bring to market this week its Papermax scanner and Maxmate software (list price for the system: $499), a quick and handy program for both Windows and Macintosh computers to copy newspaper and magazine articles onto the screen.

On the electronic desktop, areas can be highlighted and electronic "sticky notes" attached before documents are stacked a bundle and dispatched through electronic mail to colleagues 100 feet or thousands of miles away.

"It's one of the indispensable items on my desk," said David Dahlberg, whose wife is the Charlotte Anderson of Charlotte Anderson Design, an advertising and graphic design firm in Bountiful, Utah.

Mr. Dahlberg, a partner in the design firm, has been testing the new system for five months.

"I'm constantly clipping articles from the paper to send to associates," he said. "I scan them in and send them off with Winfax Pro software. I like being able to assemble the fax on the screen, from PC Week or Infoworld. The unit is so darn fast, and easy: You can tear an article out and throw it into the machine and in a couple of seconds you're done. With fax machines you have to wait and wait."

The Visioneer system represents not a technological breakthrough but rather an imaginative melding of existing hardware and software technologies.

To read distributed files, receiving parties do not need the Papermax-Maxmate system. All they need is a program called Maxmate Viewer, which Visioneer distributes free.

"I sent my friend in Massachusetts Maxmate Viewer, and he can just pop up the clippings I send him, stick on his own notes and send it right back," Mr. Dahlberg said. "We do this all the time."

Another test site for the system is Scott Air Force Base in Belleville, Ill., across the Mississippi from St. Louis. "We're really trying to go paperless within our office, trying to ease the main choke points in administration," said Lt. Brent Snyder, a network engineer.

"We have two of the scanners, and we've given the viewers to other people, and we've been throwing everything in our office onto the system."

He said the base transmitted material both over its local area network and through E-mail. "We throw everything into it, documents that need to be read, even map directions to friends' houses, and it's so quick."

Indeed, the speed with which the document is scanned on screen seems remarkable. Once the Papermax, which is about the size of a carton of cigarettes, is hooked into a serial port on the back of the computer and the software has been loaded, scanning an article is as easy as 1 (forget the 2-3).

Feed an article into the scanner, which automatically clicks on, and within three seconds, the image begins to appear on screen. Within eight seconds, it is usually complete and can be stored, rotated, annotated or, with the click of a mouse, transmitted to E-mail or a fax program.

"That ease of use is its key advantage, its differentiating factor in the marketplace," said Kristy Holch, director of scanning market strategies with BIS Strategic Decisions, a research firm in Norwell, Mass.

"The hardware is limited, which takes away your choices and makes it easier to use. Like, because it goes through the serial port, which can handle only so much data, this device is limited to black and white. But that limitation makes it easy to install and get going. It also makes it usable with laptops that can't take an internal board."

Many scanners are more expensive and slower to use than the Papermax, though they often provide better images, with sharper resolution and gray scales rather than just black and white. "I think a lot of people will love this machine," Ms. Holch said, "but they would love to pay less for it."

Visioneer has declined to provide any estimates of anticipated sales, but Ms. Holch said she expected the Papermax/Maxmate system to sell perhaps 40,000 units in 1994, which would give it about 3 percent of the scanner market.

"I'm certain they'll sell a nice little amount," she said, "but they'd have to make it less expensive for it to really take off."

The program requires about 4 megabytes of storage space on the drive and about that much system memory to breathe.

The menu is straightforward, and a line across the bottom of the screen explains what each icon represents. The software also provides handy tools for integrating computer files with clippings that are being scanned in.

Text documents from word processors like Word, Ami Pro and WordPerfect can be "printed" onto the Maxmate desktop, where they can be bundled into packets with scanned-in material. Graphics and art files stored in different formats, including the DOS-based PCX files and Windows-based BMP files can be added in.

Next: Shades of gray and a temptation to go full color.

Joshua Mills is a columnist for the New York Times. You can reach him at (212) 556-1234.

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