A Better Interface For My New Toy?

I’ve been playing around with CDMA2000 on my laptop, and it’s kinda fun. But the device I’m using, a PCMCIA card from Growell, comes with software that is not exactly the most beautiful or functional:

Growell

And there’s not much one can do about it, as far as I can work out. I love the idea of being able to do all this stuff — surf, SMS, take and receive calls — from my laptop, but I would love to do it via an interface that wasn’t so awful.

Is there no way for third-party developers to come up with better interfaces for these things? I would have thought it wouldn’t be too hard to offer one interface with standard features that work with most such cards. Or maybe there is, and I just don’t know where to find it?

Some PaperPort Tips

Further to my column in this week’s WSJ.com/AWSJ on PaperPort Pro and PaperMaster Pro, here are some tips on getting the most out of the former from Bob Anderson (ScanSoft Regional Director Asia Pacific and Japan):

Tip 1 – Using PaperPort PageViewer as a separate application and displaying PaperPort across two monitors. By default when you double click on a file it opens PageViewer as an integrated window over the PaperPort Desktop. You can change this behaviour under PaperPort Options: Desktop: Page View. Select “Display items in: PageViewer Application”. Now the PaperPort PageViewer “floats” over the PaperPort Desktop and can be moved independently. Unfortunately a single monitor does offer enough space to make this productive. To really get the benefit of the feature I have an external monitor connected to my laptop. You can also put an additional video card in a desktop computer. The Display control panel in Microsoft Windows will allow you to extend you Windows desktop across two monitors. I keep PaperPort opened on my right monitor at all times and when I double click on a file they appear in the PageViewer on my left monitor. Once you start working this way you will never go back to a single monitor again.

I can now instantly “zoom” onto a document without covering the PaperPort Desktop and with the new Page Thumbnails I can click and drag pages from the PaperPort PageViewer onto the PaperPort Desktop and vice-versa. This is essential when working with documents that are all text, like a contract, where one page thumbnail looks like the next because there are no distinguishing graphics or pictures.

Tip 2 – Using Page Names to quickly identify the content of individual pages.

On multi-page PDF documents I can quickly identify a particular page by sight, (such as the signature page of a contract or the beginning of a topic), by using Page Names. Click on a document and select Page Thumbnails. Click on the Page Thumbnail you wish to name. Click on the Item Properties button on the command bar. The Item Properties will appear in the Function Pane to the left. There will be a Page (x) of (x) field where you can type a page name. Enter a relevant page name and click the Save button.

If you need to see the full page to properly identify what the page name should be you can also add page names using the PaperPort PageViewer. Double click to open the document in the PaperPort PageViewer. Click on the page you wish to name. Select File: Item Properties under the file menu. The item properties will appear as a floating dialog. Enter the page name in the Page (x) of (x) field and click the Save button.

Tip 3 – Quickly finding an important page within a document. (Searching for the exact location of an annotation within a PDF document)

If I need to find a particular page at a later date I will mark it with a standard annotation so I can search for it later. I use annotations that make sense to me such as “please review”, “please call” and “important”.

I use the “Note” tool in the PaperPort PageViewer to mark the pages with these annotations. I then add the file to the All-in-One search index. When I need to go to that page again I do a search using the All-in-One search to locate the file by using “Name, author, keyword…” search with only “Annotations” checked and “Use All-in-One index” unchecked. Even though I initially added the entire file to the All-in-One index I only want PaperPort to find my note annotations and not all my other files containing the same words as my notes. This will limit my searches to quickly find the specific files I am trying to locate.

Once the file is located, if the annotation is buried on a page deep within a long document, I double-click it to open it in the PaperPort PageViewer. I then select Tools: Find in the PageViewer menu and search the document for annotations only. This immediately jumps me to the page that I had been trying to locate.

The PaperPort View

Further to my column in this week’s WSJ.com/AWSJ on PaperPort Pro and PaperMaster Pro, here are some e-mailed answers from Bob Anderson (ScanSoft Regional Director Asia Pacific and Japan) in response to my questions about PaperPort Pro:

1) What are the improvements in version 10 (PaperPort Professional 10) over previous versions?

A) Faster and easier folder navigation with Bookmark Workspaces and Split Desktop. Bookmark Workspaces allow you to bookmark your most widely used folders and quickly jump back to them when you need them. Using the Split Desktop you can also look into two folders at once to move files quickly and easily between them or to simply compare the contents of two folders at the same time.

B) A new All-in-One Search Engine and Index Manager for faster and more flexible indexing of scanned files and faster retrieval of documents you search.

C) PDF Support

a) PDF Create! PaperPort includes the capability to create PDF files from all of your MS Office documents or any other PC application with PDF Create! – just like Adobe® Acrobat®. PDF has emerged as the universal standard for sharing and archiving documents and images. The PDF format lets you send any document or image to anyone, regardless of whether they use a PC or a Macintosh® computer, and they can view and print the file – exactly as it looked on your computer – without the need to have the application that was used to create the original file. Now, there is no need to buy any additional PDF creating software – PaperPort 10 Professional does everything you need.

b) PDF Combine, Stack, Drag&Drop, Cut, Paste and Delete Manipulating PDF files is easier. Accelerates the creation and assembly of custom documents by mimicking the way you work with paper documents. Easily add or remove pages, reorder them or create new documents with drag and drop tools that making working with electronic documents as simple as working with actual paper documents on your desktop.

c) PDF Security PaperPort protects your information by allowing you to set security options for individual documents. Keep your content locked down by requiring a password to view or print sensitive information.

d) PageViewer PDF Rendering – Resolution Adjustable Customise the view on your desktop by increasing or decreasing the resolution of graphics in PageViewer mode to optimise PaperPort’s performance to suit your needs.

D) Superior document assembly capabilities that make working with digital documents as easy as working with real paper by using automatic conversion to PDF, Page Thumbnails and the Split Desktop. Page Thumbnails allow you to cut, copy, paste, delete and rearrange the pages of a PDF document. You may drag whole documents of ANY format (print capable) into the Page Thumbnails of a PDF document. The ability to assemble documents as easily as dragging pages or documents from one document to another is greatly enhanced by the Split Desktop that allows you to merge documents across two different folders.

E) Faster and more productive scanning with a new scanner interface that provides for “One-click Scanning” and “Batch Scanning” capabilities

F) PaperPort SET tools (Scanner Enhancement Technology) are on the desktop for fast document image corrections. The PaperPort SET Tools allow you to rotate, auto-straighten, convert document colours, adjust image colour, hue, etc. all with a right-click on any image document.

G) Unparalleled ease-of-use and accessibility to PDF creation functions, including password protection, integrated throughout PaperPort and popular Microsoft applications.

2) What kind of users, and usage, are you aiming at? Do you have any interesting customer stories about how they’ve used PP, or perhaps your own experience?

We are looking to provide comprehensive desktop document management solutions for individual knowledge workers in the small business marketplace or for functional workgroups in large organisations.

A) Document Management – Anyone that wants to eliminate the use of paper as their primary means of storage and retrieval will become more organised using their computer and PaperPort. This includes home, home office and any business application that currently relies on a paper process and is looking for a way to organise, find and share information more easily and efficiently.

B) Scan-to-Desktop – With the proliferation of network multifunction and digital copier devices, scanning has really become a mainstream business function. PaperPort Professional helps millions of professionals to eliminate paper and to streamline the way they work with all of their documents. With PaperPort, you can easily scan using any connected or networked scanning device including flatbed, All-in-One and Multi-Function Devices. PaperPort supports WIA, TWAIN and ISIS scanner drivers as well as important industry-standard formats including PDF, TIFF and MAX. Its unique ability to work with desktop, network and departmental scanners and even digital copiers make it an invaluable productivity application for organisations of all sizes. Users can e-mail, fax or send documents to repositories on a networked file server with a simple drag-and-drop.

We have many interesting customer case studies that are attached as separate files.

3) This kind of product has, in my view, remained quite niche. People still appear to be somewhat resistant to the idea of committing their paper to a scanner. Is this true, and if not, do you have any statistics to support your view? If it is the case, how are you going about convincing users to change their habits?

Document scanning adoption is increasing as improved, affordable networked multi-function and workgroup/departmental devices penetrate new market segments. Recent research by organisations such as Gartner Group and IDC shows that the adoption of scanners – particularly in the enterprise in a networked environment – has seen tremendous growth in recent years. Multi-function devices and networked or departmental scanners with automatic document feeders is the fastest growing segment for scanner manufacturers, growing at an annual rate of 3.2 percent a year (source: Gartner) while colour multifunction devices are experiencing double digit growth. These scanners are being used primarily for document scanning (rather than photo scanning as may have been the case in the past), and e-mailing attachments has become more commonplace than faxing paper documents. As these devices continue to grow in popularity, so does the need for document management software such as PaperPort that allows people to not only get paper into a PC, but also to organise, find and share that information once it is in a digital environment.

The popularity of document management software also becomes particularly evident when we look at our customer base – nearly 4 million people use PaperPort, and say that, after e-mail, it is the application that they use most on their PC. We do recognise that we will likely never see a truly “paperless office,” but there is indeed a need for document management software such as PaperPort that allows digital and paper information to coexist and work together more efficiently.

According to Keith Kmetz, program director, Hardcopy Peripherals Solutions and Services, IDC, “The proliferation of network multifunction and digital copier devices, combined with intuitive applications such as PaperPort, has finally made document scanning a mainstream business function. Products like PaperPort Professional 10 give organisations the ability to deliver the benefits of scanning, PDF and document assembly to every business desktop.”

4) Where do you see the future of this kind of product? Is it going to morph into other products that index users’ documents (Desktop Search, etc), and do you see any combination of products like PP and voice recognition? After all, character recognition and voice recognition would appear to be cousins, and ScanSoft have strong footprints in both areas.

PaperPort is an environment to manage all kinds of documents. Scanning, document assembly and desktop search are all critical components in the document management lifecycle. PaperPort All-in-One search is already a comprehensive desktop search tool allowing you to search all scanned paper, image and text document types including PDF.

So where in managing documents do our customers need the most improvements to increase their productivity and find value in the next version of PaperPort? Voice recognition is definitely an area of growth as the accuracy of the technology allows for greater acceptance. Document collaboration, distribution and the effective use of multifunction devices are all areas where there is still significant opportunity for improvement and productivity. More and more multifunction devices are replacing single purpose machines making scanned documents more accessible and therefore the tools to manage those documents at the desktop are in greater demand.

With regards to the character and voice recognition, ScanSoft’s optical character recognition (OCR) technology can be used to create an index of a document by converting the ‘picture’ of the textual information within a document into computer text. Similarly, ScanSoft’s AudioMining technology can be used to create XML speech indexes of every spoken word contained in an audio and video file; in short, AudioMining does to audio and video what OCR does to a document. For the enterprise, particularly in industries where recording telephone calls is a requirement (such as banking, insurance, etc), AudioMining can be used to jump directly to a specific location in a conversation. Public Web users could also benefit when searching for training videos, research talks at universities, government hearings and news conferences, etc.

5) The PP interface hasn’t changed much in a decade, arguably. Is this version a major GUI revamp, or are you sticking with what you have?

I’d say we accomplished a lot of both. We have a very large user base that is quite familiar with the features and functions of the program that are directly tied to the easy-to-use interface. We wanted to make changes that specifically enhance the productivity of document assembly, search, PDF creation, password protection and management to further the concept of “electronic paper” without compromising where our customers have already found significant value.

Also worth noting is that PaperPort is available in multiple languages in both Western and now in Asian language versions. ScanSoft added Chinese (Traditional & Simplified), Japanese & Korean with OCR in the native language to the product line-up during the later half of 2004. The Asian version is coming to market through our various customers including OEM, licensees and general distribution partners

6) Why is one not able to preview documents in thumbnail view (in other words, being able to see all pages of the document in thumbnail, while being able to see full size preview of a page in the same window by clicking on one of the thumbnails), a feature common in other programs as far back as 1998? I’ve always felt this to be a key weakness in PP.

PaperPort 10 features Page Thumbnails on both the PaperPort Desktop and within the PaperPort PageViewer. We have also added significant value to these thumbnails by allowing you to cut, copy, paste, delete and rearrange the pages of a PDF document. You may drag whole documents of ANY format into the page thumbnails of any PDF document for automatic conversion to PDF and easy document assembly (See PaperPort menu item “View:Page Thumbnails”).

7) Another weakness I’ve felt exists has been the OCR. Given ScanSoft’s strengths in this field, why is PP’s inbuilt engine not more powerful?

The features of PaperPort OCR are dedicated to specific tasks within PaperPort and are generally adequate for most business purposes providing an appropriate amount of value for our customers. To enhance the OCR capabilities a customer may add professional OCR speed, accuracy and value by purchasing ScanSoft OmniPage which will automatically upgrade the PaperPort OCR capability.

8) Where does Acrobat/PDF fit into all this? Both you and PaperMaster now support direct-to-PDF scanning, and products like Fujitsu’s ScanSnap use it by default. Is this the way things will go? Have they already snuffed out alternatives? What are the advantages of this, and are there disadvantages? Adobe’s interface, in my view, doesn’t make it easy for users to tweak, annotate or fix PDF files.

The greatest challenge to streamlining document-based processes in business is the fact that there are two incompatible dominant electronic document formats – Microsoft® Word and PDF. Microsoft Word provides professionals with a rich environment for document creation and collaborative authoring but the editable Microsoft Word format is not well suited for electronic publishing and online document storage. Conversely, PDF has expanded from its traditional roots as a design and pre-press tool to an electronic file sharing standard providing business users with a format that is well suited for the distribution, viewing and archiving of documents.

The result is that Microsoft Word is the standard for authoring and editing business documents, while PDF is becoming the preferred way of distributing and sharing business documents online. The pervasiveness of Microsoft Word (400 million) and Adobe® Acrobat® Reader (500 million) gives rise to the need for document management solutions that enable the seamless movement of documents between the two dominant formats.

However, traditional solutions for PDF creation and management, such as Adobe Acrobat, are not priced or designed with the business user in mind. The ScanSoft family of PDF products – PDF Create!, PDF Converter, and PDF Converter Professional 2, address this need by providing business professionals with the ability to more seamlessly move between the two dominant electronic document formats – Microsoft Word and PDF.

We extend this PDF support into PaperPort Professional 10 as well, by including not only Scan-to-PDF and the ability to convert any format to PDF, but also ScanSoft PDF Create!, which allows users to quickly create a PDF from any PC application, or merge multiple files into a PDF. We also continue to support and make available our own internal “PaperPort Image” format as well as supporting TIFF, JPEG, GIF and BMP as long as our customers require these formats. We also believe that a true desktop management system encompasses scanned file formats as well as popular digital application files.

Malaysia’s New PDA Phone

Malaysian company Fifth Media (beware: lots of Flash animation) will this week launch the Axia, a PDA phone that is small, and, at $525, ‘arguably the lowest-priced PDA phone’, according to today’s New Straits Times.

The Axia A108 is a GSM tri-band phone using Microsoft Windows CE.NET, with GPRS, MP3 player and 1.3 megapixel camera. There’s no Bluetooth, in case you’re wondering.

It will first appear in Singapore, Bangkok, London and Hong Kong. It will later be launched  in Paris, Mumbai, Jakarta, Manila and Dubai. Fifth Media, the Times reports, plans to launch three more models in the next year: the Axia A208 with a pocket personal computer and facsimile, a A308 with Bluetooth and a 2.0- megapixel screen, and the A338 with WiFi.

A New Version Of Copernic’s Desktop Search Toolbar

Just in case you haven’t heard this elsewhere, Copernic has released a new version of their excellent Desktop Search toolbar that. among other things,

fully supports Mozilla Thunderbird, including indexing of Thunderbird emails, attachments, and contacts. Also announced was support for indexing Eudora emails and attachments and many exciting new features based on feedback from a wide variety of users.

More details here. I’ve always liked Copernic, and it’s good to see they’re really going for it in what is now a crowded marketplace. As their press release puts it,

once again, Copernic, a small business, is beating the big powerhouses – Google, Microsoft – to the punch with this newest version of CDS. There has been talk that Google has plans to announce support for Mozilla Thunderbird very soon, but this newest version of CDS makes Copernic the first vendor to support both Firefox and Thunderbird.

CDS works with Windows 98/Me/NT/2000/XP and Internet Explorer 5.0 or later. It’s probably churlish of me but I’d still like to see the interface make better use of empty space. When you’re searching thousands of documents the difference between seeing 20 matches and 30 is a sizeable one. But this is a minor quibble in a great program.

The Moleskine Without The Skine (Or The Mole, For That Matter)

From Jason Kottke, a simpler version of the Moleskine: My analog Palm Pilot, a piece of 8.5×11 paper, folded twice.

That way, when I need to look up a phone number or jot down an address, I don’t have to get out a notebook, my computer, or hunt around for a piece of scrap paper. And it won’t ever get stolen like a cell phone or handheld might.

Another Plaxo?

Judith Meskill at the socialsoftware blog points out that BusinessWeek Online is Gaga over Bebo and wonders:

Is there something I am missing here? How is Bebo.com different than Plaxo.com? The service that so very many have grown to love to hate? Why would we all fall in love with Bebo whilst loathing Plaxo?

I haven’t really tried bebo yet, but from what I can see it doesn’t look that different to what Plaxo was doing. As Judith also points out, no one is quite sure whether Plaxo is the personification of evil or a darned good thing, though last time I looked I felt there were some serious privacy issues that had yet to be addressed. Maybe they have been; that was more than a year ago.

I notice that Plaxo now has nearly 5.5 million members and 1.2 billion [sic] ‘connected contacts’. (They passed 5 million in late January.) That’s a lot of people, even if you factor in the duplicates (since Plaxo doesn’t weed or match contacts — if you’ve got a Joe Bloggs and I’ve got a Joe Bloggs in our address book, that’s two Joe Bloggs even if they’re the same guy.)

Also I notice that Plaxo has a revised privacy policy, including the important one:
You maintain ownership rights to Your Information, even if there is a business transition or policy change. Sounds like they’ve listened to people. I’ll try to take a closer look at this issue again in coming weeks. Thoughts as always very welcome.

Starbucks Comes To Tsunami-hit Aceh

Indonesians don’t have much time for trademarks, copyright and all that kind of thing, but they do have a great sense of humour and a resilience that inspires. Here’s a new cafe that has just opened for business near the airport in Aceh’s Meulaboh, one of the worst hit areas:

Starbucks

(picture courtesy of Radio68H. The full-sized picture is here. )

Warkop is Indonesian short-speak for warung kopi, or coffee stall. I love the scene, the plastic containers of kerupuk (thanks, Wicak!) and donuts, the expression on the face of the guy hanging out on the right, the ears on the little fella sitting at the back on the left, and I just hope that Starbucks, which is contributing to tsunami relief, doesn’t take umbrage. I calculate the nearest Starbucks to Meulaboh is in Medan, about 350 km away, so I don’t think they’re going to be attracting away custom. Still, as one wag pointed out to a friend who spotted the picture: ‘This Starbucks has wireless too. Absolutely no wires.’

A Free Zone Alarm?

For firewalls, I always recommend Zone Alarm from ZoneLabs. To my mind it’s still the best and most intuitive firewall around. But most people only need the free version. And that’s where the problem is. Why do ZoneLabs make it so hard for ordinary users to download it?

Readers and friends who have tried to download the free version often seem to run into problems, and download the ‘free trial’ version or some other less-than-free version of the software. As I recommend Zone Alarm, and thought that ZoneLabs had agreed to make this easer after earlier complaints, I thought I should check it out.

It’s true that it’s not easy. The Free ZoneAlarm and trials link is there in the top half of the screen, but it’s below another ‘freebie’, a Spyware Detector (more of that anon). The list of ZoneAlarm Security Products that are now available does not include a link to the free version, and the big link to the ZoneAlarm Security Suite page which dominates the top half of the screen contains no links to the free version. Neither does the download page. So unless you happen to see the link on the homepage, you’ve pretty much lost the chance to get the free download.

And even then, should you make it to the ‘Free Downloads’ page, you’ll have to scroll down to the end of the list, past five other mentions of the word ‘free’ to find the free version. Made it that far? You still have to skip past another tripwire before you make it home without removing your wallet. The first link on that page is to a link: FREE! Scan My PC for Spyware Before Downloading ZoneAlarm® (Recommended) that sounds, to a casual user, almost part of the download process. (What they don’t tell you is that the scan is for free, but you’ll have to shell out $30 to remove the ‘spyware, keyloggers, cookies, adware, browser help objects and other pests’ that the scan will find. My scan found 48 items of ‘spyware’ — all but two of them cookies, which is pushing the definition a little. (The other two were MS Media Player ID files, which are worth removing, according to CA and Kephyr.)

This is a shame because, while I can understand ZoneLabs need to make a buck, the free version is an excellent shop window for ZoneLabs. And users shouldn’t be misled by ‘recommended’ links to other software that looks free, but isn’t really. Bottom line: If you’re not educating the user but trying to get their money through stealth or obfuscation, then you’re not part of the solution.

Firefox Glitiches, Set Default Browser Solutions, And Other Monday Morning Issues

Another Monday morning, another irritant. This time it’s one of those annoyances in Windows XP that should have been sorted out long ago: Setting a browser as your default browser is no piece of cake. Everything else Internet-related is, from the default editor you might want to use to how you want to handle calendar file. Just go to Internet Properties in your Control Panel. But setting a default browser is not there, mainly because the Internet Properties window is actually the options window for Internet Explorer. And what’s the point of allowing users to open IE, just so they can close it down forever?

Anyway, here’s an easy solution: SetBrowser, a small slice of freeware from PC-Tools that allows you to set more or less any browser you like as the default browser, or any individual protocol, and to test it. It works pretty well, although don’t have it running at the same time Internet Properties unless you want some weirdness to happen in the latter.

By the way, this didn’t fix the problem I was trying to solve, namely an error that keeps popping up when a program tries to launch Firefox (opening links is no problem; it just seems to cause a problem with certain functions, though I don’t know enough to be able to figure out what.) It happens, for example, when I try to open Chat History in Skype, even if Firefox is no longer my default browser. The error message is this:

—————————
MOZILL~1.EXE – Entry Point Not Found
—————————
The procedure entry point ??0nsCAutoString@@QAE@PBD@Z could not be located in the dynamic link library xpcom.dll.
—————————
OK  
—————————

Anybody got any ideas? I assume it’s a glitch in a plug-in, but which one? And is there any easy way to isolate the problem?