Law Office Computing
Watch Out For Falling Prices
We live in a world where markets collapse. When I was a boy the corn market used to collapse periodically and in more recent years, we=ve seen the stock market collapse, and the collapse of California real estate. There are many other examples, but I cannot remember a collapse of the kind that has befallen the makers of digital scanners. Many of them have just gone out of business or into Chapter 11. Remarkably, however, the fall of prices has been accompanied by a rapid increase in quality. You can now get a high quality, millions of colors, high-resolution flatbed scanner that only a few years ago might have cost a thousand or more dollars for under fifty dollars today, including the basic software necessary to start work. At that price, you cannot afford to put off entering the world digital imaging. Scanners permit you to import images of documents into your computer system where they can be used in other documents or for simple storage. And you can use your high-grade document scanner in place of a fax with the kind of software that is typically bundled with home scanners. There are basically four different types of scanners on the market. 1) Flatbed scanners; 2) single-sheet fed scanners; 3) high-speed office document scanners with automatic document feeders (ADF) as a basic part of the machine; 4) hand-held scanners of various types.
In my estimation, the hand-held scanners are basically little more than toys and I don=t intend to discuss them here. Hewlett Packard has the only product that is really workable but it is very expensive and has limited use. If you care about unlimited scanning portability, however, you may want to drop into to your local supplier to have a look. My purpose here is to talk about mainline scanning in the law office environment.
A flatbed scanner looks very much like a copy machine and can be used to scan in images of documents, photographs, and even three-dimensional objects like bloody gloves. If you go to BestBuy or some computer superstore, most of the scanners you will see are of the flatbed variety. They are terrific for copying color photographs of various sizes as well as black and white images from newspapers, magazines, and books. If you intend to copy documents, however, then the flatbed scanner is very slow unless you have only a page or two to do. Many of the more expensive flatbed scanners have an optional accessory called an automatic document feeder (ADF) that can be attached to the scanner and allows you to put in multiple pages of documents. These tend to be quite slow however, typically scanning at a rate of 4-5 pages per minute. Thus, if your needs are modest and you do not intend to use the scanner in a real office environment, one of the inexpensive flatbed scanners may provide you with the variety that you need.
Sheet-fed scanners come in two basic varieties. First are the small baguette-shaped scanners such as the Logitech USB scanner. Several companies have scanners of this type and they are quite inexpensive. For a few dollars more, however, you can get a sheet-fed scanner that will handle 10-15 pages at a time and scan in both color and black and white. The limitation of the use of this kind of scanner, however, is that you cannot use odd-shaped pieces of paper or objects that cannot be fed into the scanning tractor. Both Hewlett-Packard and Storm Technologies make scanners of this type in the under $100 price range, and they are very useful for light office and personal use.
High-Speed ADF Scanners
If you intend to scan documents of any size, on a regular basis in your office, you should consider spending a few more dollars to get a high-quality, high-speed document scanner that can double as an object or single-page flatbed scanner. There are several on the market but the one that I am most familiar with is the Fujitsu ScanPartner15c which I have in my office. The ScanPartner15c can scan 15 pages per minute from a 50-page, automatic document feeder. In addition, the document feeder lifts up to reveal a flatbed scanning capability that will accept both odd-sized documents and three dimensional objects. The Fujitsu 15c scanner comes with a substantial set of software for various kinds of image scanning including Eastman Imaging Professional that includes Text Bridge OCR software from Xerox, the most highly regarded office level product for creating text files from scanned documents. In a future column I will talk in detail about the processes you need to develop to move your office toward the long sought paperless world.
The Fujitsu 15c is available by mail order from many companies including PC Connection for around $800. Hewlett Packard sells ScanJet 6250C scanner with built in document feeder for about half the price but it slow and hard to use. The support people I talked to seem to have no real knowledge about the scanner and could not fix what should have been a simple set up glitch in the software, which prevented it from being useful in the office environment because the machine defaulted at setup color scanning. I do not recommend the Hewlett Packard ScanJet 6250C for use in the office setting.
Connecting Your Scanner
The smaller personal scanners connect through either a parallel port or a USB port. I have a Logitech USB scanner that is about the size of a nice baguette that plugs into my notebook computer with ease. It gives me terrific portable scanning capability. For example, if I were in a small document production I could scan a document immediately instead of putting it aside for copying. Other uses for portable scanning are self-evident and it is very easy. The USB connection is much easier than using the parallel port if for no other reason because you can hook up the scanner without rebooting the computer. But, these little portable scanners take only one page at a time and do not have the ability to scan a book or an object. They are great for traveling and for learning about scanning, but they are not really suitable for the development of document imaging systems.
The office scanners, such as the Fujitsu 15c, require installation of a SCSI card that comes with the machine. Fujitsu provides very good telephone support and I have found the scanner to be easy to install and use. Fujitsu makes other larger and faster scanners, but if you have to scan more than few thousand pages a month you might be better off with service bureau. We will cover all that in the forthcoming column on starting a document management system in your office.