Build an archive
After its easy install (PaperPort takes up about 80MB on your hard drive), PaperPort offers several methods for adding your documents--both paper and digital--to a centralized archive on your PC. You can scan pieces of paper directly into PaperPort's database from most scanners. You can also use ScanSoft's own printer driver to convert digital files to PaperPort's MAX format and store them inside the database. Or, rather than keeping everything in PaperPort's database, you can tell the program to track folders full of files on your hard disk or your network.
PaperPort Deluxe 8.0 can track essentially all common document formats, including Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Acrobat, bitmaps, most e-mail formats, and Web pages. The advantage of bringing files into PaperPort's database is that if the original file changes--for example, when a favorite Web page goes dark--you retain a replica. On the other hand, linking to external folders ensures that your PaperPort information reflects the current state of the live files.
Easy search and recovery
Either way, once you round up the files, PaperPort's straightforward interface makes the software's unique utility clear. The program creates thumbnails of each of your documents, which you can then name, arrange in folders, and describe with metadata, such as who wrote the file, what it's about, and so on. A left-hand Folders pane displays a hierarchical list of the folders that contain the files you've stored on PaperPort's database. On the right, a window displays thumbnail shots of all of the files in any folder you select. Double-click a thumbnail to open it in a separate window and use the Image Editing toolbar to straighten out crooked scans, erase stray dots, and so on.
PaperPort also indexes all text from both the metadata and files themselves so that its search engine can help you find your way through the archive. Unfortunately, it can't import files in batches. And because it converts all imports to the MAX bitmap to get them into the database, it has to convert all text documents to readable text via optical character recognition (OCR). Hence, the entire import process can be slow; for example, in our tests, it took about 90 minutes to convert and index a 70-page Acrobat file on a 300MHz Pentium. Thankfully, you can schedule PaperPort's indexer to, for example, index a batch of external files at night when you're not using the computer.
Shares and shares alike
Need to share your scanned docs? PaperPort lends a hand here, too. You can drag and drop several thumbnails into a single virtual document, then send the stack to your fax modem or attach it to an e-mail message. PaperPort then embeds a viewer in the e-mail attachment so that the recipient can view the document without installing PaperPort itself. Alternatively, your correspondents can download a free browser plug-in viewer from ScanSoft.
ScanSoft also includes a PaperPort Online account with each copy of PaperPort Deluxe 8.0. The account provides 25MB of storage on a centralized server for one year, which permits you and a number of scattered peers to archive, read, and comment on shared documents. (You can pay to add storage or extend the account.)
Starts small, stays small
ScanSoft designed PaperPort for individuals and small workgroups in which you know your coworkers. So, even though version 8.0 doesn't limit the number of files you can save or your database size, the product lacks security features that many larger offices need. For example, you can't set up read-only access for some users and read-write access for others. There's no audit trail to record who looks at particular files, either; a wily office mate could use the program's image-cleanup tools to make unwanted changes to the contents of documents inside the database.
Also unfortunately, PaperPort's OCR engine, based on ScanSoft TextBridge Pro Millennium, lacks proofing tools, so any mistakes it makes while converting, say, a PDF file into text go into the index. To make things worse, ScanSoft doesn't make a Mac version of PaperPort, and it provides telephone support only to get the program running; questions about how it works or how to use it cost you 15 clams a call.
Insurance companies, medical-records agencies, and the IRS won't find PaperPort Deluxe 8.0 suitable; it's not secure or robust enough. But for the right situation--small offices that need an easy way to get it all together and keep it there--the program offers a superb set of tools to straddle the paper/computer divide.