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Today we are going to talk about scanners, a peripheral that I believe should be an essential part of any lawyer’s computer system. Scanners can be used for three primary purposes: � Digital photos or images; � OCR’ing documents; � Exact copies of documents. Scanners come in many different price ranges, and what you need will depend on what you want to do. Scanners under $200 do fine for making average pictures and images, but if you need extremely detailed photos, or want to convert large document, you’ll need to spend a bit more. PHOTOS When scanning photos, the primary criterion to look for is DPI. Most scanners will scan at 600×1200 DPI, and for small snapshots, or displaying images on the web, that’s all you’ll need. But to get sharper images at a larger size, you will need a minimum 1200×2400 or 2400×4800 DPI scan. Some scanner manufacturers use something called interpolated resolution. This claims to boost the DPI capabilities of the scanner, which attempts to use software to enhance an image, but it is more of a marketing ploy than anything. Often the interpolated resolution will make the image larger, but not better. When scanning photos of accident scenes or damaged property, it’s probably best to scan at the highest resolution. But be aware that if you will be storing these pictures on your computer, they take up a lot of room. It might be best to store these pictures on a CD rather than hog disk space. When shopping for a scanner, also be aware of what type of software comes with the scanner. You may want to purchase a separate software product, such as Adobe Photoshop, if you want to edit or enhance your photos. Some scanners also come with a transparency adapter — a device that allows you to scan slides or film. Sometimes these adapters are built in to the scanner, while others have a separate component that you would plug into the unit. Be aware, however, that results with these devices are inconsistent. Until the technology improves, you would be better off taking slides or film to a professional shop for digital conversion. OPTICAL CHARACTER RECOGNITION Optical character recognition allows you to scan a paper document and convert the words on the document into your own word processing file. You can then use this file to cut and paste into other documents, or as a stand-alone document in which you can make changes. Be aware that OCR’d documents are only as good as the original document. If you are scanning a second-generation fax, you will probably have a lot of cleanup work to do before the scan matches the original. Scanners usually come with some type of OCR software, but if you will be doing a lot of this, I would recommend the OmniPage 12 software in order to do a reliable job. PORTABLE DOCUMENT FORMAT PDF files are in essence pictures or photocopies of the original. While you can place the full PDF file into a word processing document, you can’t cut and paste the text of a scanned PDF document into your word processing document. You also can’t search for a word in the document. Nonetheless, it is much better to have a PDF file of various client papers, such as insurance policies, receipts, wills, etc., than to have a drawer full of paper documents. Scanned PDF files retain the look and feel of the original, including color, and can be printed out when you need a hard copy of the document. Anyone can read a PDF document on his or her computer if they have Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on their machine. Acrobat reader is a free download from the Adobe web site, www.adobe.com. Many machines have it pre-installed these days. However, to make PDF files, it is best to have the full Adobe Acrobat product. By having the full product, you can make your scanned documents interactive by placing text boxes into forms and adding content to scanned documents. Alternatives to Adobe Acrobat exist as well, most notably by BCL Technologies, www.bcltechnologies.com, which has a full line of products for PDF documents. TYPES OF SCANNERS A flatbed scanner is fine if you have one or two pages you want to convert, or are only scanning photos, but if you regularly scan long documents, such as a 50-page deposition, it can be very time-consuming. With flatbed scanners, you would have to open the tray, put in a page, close it, scan it, and then do the next one. The answer to this is an automatic document feeder scanner. While these can be very expensive at first, at upwards of $2,000, the speed will pay for itself in time. For example, you can load that large document into the feeder tray, hit scan, then come back to it in 10 minutes or so to finish the process. A professional grade model in the $2,000 range will last and will provide the best results for repeated jobs like this. You should also make sure that the scanner you purchase could handle legal-size documents. On the other end of the scale, a handheld scanner can be a boon if you are in a library with your laptop and need to copy portions of a publication, rather than make photocopies. THE MAILBAG As expected, I’m still getting e-mails [about a previous column, " Tips for Computer-Shopping Solos,"] from lawyers who swear by their Macs, and from others who believe I’m incompetent for recommending that lawyers who are novice computer users stay with Windows-based systems. James W. Schmehl from Fort Collins, Colo., writes: “I purchased the first Mac for my office in 1994. It is still used by my paralegal. Since I opened the practice we have purchased a total of six Macs. All are still running and being used daily. We have purchased four Windows-based machines as they failed or upgrading was more expensive than purchasing new machines.” “Join the 500 online members of macaw (out of the thousands of us out there) and ask all the questions you want,” adds Richard A. Guilford. “Actually take charge of your computer and its operations. You don’t have to be a slave to your technology. It’s Different.” And finally, John Dean writes: “I have operated a Mac office since 1983. My colleagues who latterly got sucked into the vortex from the Dark Side have spent considerably more in time and money on their systems, which are more prone to system failure and are far less user-friendly. But that is their problem for being duped by salespeople who often know very little about what they are selling, and believing what they read in articles such as yours. Your correspondent’s article is ill informed and lacks credibility.” So if you are planning to invest in a Macintosh system, you’ll know who to turn to for help. Brian R. Harris is the database administrator for the American Lawyer Media-Pennsylvania division and the former editor-in-chief of The Legal Intelligencer.

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