My desk has become a sea of paper. Drawers and drawers filled with old reports, warranty guides, receipts, and papers whose origin I haven’t the slightest idea about. I’ve never really considered trying to scan and catalog my physical world, converting it to a digital one.
I guess that is why I was taken aback when asked to review Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software like ABBYY FineReader. I never really thought I’d be able to organize everything in any of my drawers. But after looking at the different scanned-file organization and OCR options, I may yet find a way to search through the mess…
After the jump, I’ll explain what exactly OCR is, and walk you through a number of different solutions available for the Mac!
What is OCR?
Before we jump into the world of software comparisons, it might be good to ensure everyone has an understanding of Optical Character Recognition. Essentially, a scanned document is nothing more than a flat picture – it doesn’t contain any readable text, just pixels.
You can’t search for any of the words inside the document with Spotlight, as the actual text can’t be read from the computer’s point of view. OCR uses software to recognize the words and letters within an image, converting them into digital text. That way, it can be searched or edited later.
ABBYY FineReader for MacFirst up is the must-loved (on the Windows side at least) ABBYY FineReader Express for Mac. First though, a short tangent. I feel as if the most Mac-like applications have a similar naming convention. Normally, our most coveted applications have simple, easy to remember titles: Things, Adium, Billings, SuperDuper!.
However, corporate focused, multi-platform applications tend to tack on extra words to the name of the program. ABBYY FineReader Express for Mac is no exception – why not just “FineReader”? Anyway, that’s not particularly important in the long-run. Let’s assess how the application actually works…
Unfortunately, to add fuel to the fire of having to register for a trial download, FineReader also forces you to install the program via an install wizard (rather than the usual drag-and-drop).
Once you open up FineReader you are given a very simple (albeit slightly uninspiring) interface. You have the option to Scan or Import from a File and automatically perform the OCR process. After you grab the file / scan the paper, you can convert the file to various document formats. FineReader will convert the scanned document into editable formats like Word, Excel, HTML or an indexable PDF.
Once you have imported the file into FineReader, converted and OCR’ed the image, the editing window will appear (it will also automatically open the default program for that file type.)
Within the editing window, you can designate Text, Picture, and ‘Table’ areas in the document. All-in-all, ABBYY was super easy to use, very fast at OCR’ing my pre-scanned images, and comes in at under $100.