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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Beta? Alpha, more like...

Although with web services it's very easy to release a product and update it quickly (without having to wait for users to download and install new software), sometimes companies promote products way before they're ready.

ScanR is a case in point. A very good idea (aren't they all?!), it offers the service of converting digital images (from digital cameras and camera phones) into PDF documents. The service has been running and under promotion for some months, and the quality of the output is very good (documents look like a flat-bed scan of a good photocopy of the original). It would be very useful in my drive to ditch paper.

There's just one slight flaw. You can scan a multi-page documents by taking a picture of each page in turn and sending them as attachments on the same e-mail. The flaw? Pages are returned out-of-order, requiring the use of software such as the free PDFill PDF Tools PDF editor to re-order the pages. This bug is "known", and will be fixed, but no timescale for the fix is available.

This seriously hampers the service as it stands.

It's also far from clear which way round you should scan documents - A4 needs to be scanned in landscape, so in order to make sure your scans come back the right way up, should you have the top of the document on the left or the right of the frame? As it turns out, it's camera dependent, so you need to use trial-and-error to find which is the right orieentation for you. However, once you've found it, it should stay the same for your camera.

ScanR has the - here's that word again - potential to be a very valuable service, but right now it's pretty crippled, and rather more worthy of alpha status than its current beta tag. The team behind the service really should have fixed show-stopper bugs like the page ordering before releasing and promoting ScanR.

Oh and, while talking about PDFs, let me recommend the free Foxit PDF reader. It's very small (<1Mb), very quick, and very light on system resources. It doesn't even need installing - you just save the executable somewhere and associate PDF files with it. It's far more pleasant to use than Acrobat Reader, opening in a fraction of the time and handling much better.

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