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A new technology: paper

Cobblestone Software touts a product that stores digital data on a printed page instead of a disk.

The days of the paperless office are numbered, or so it seems to Cobblestone Software.

The Lexington, Massachusetts-based start-up is hawking a product called PaperDisk that stores digital data on a printed page instead of a disk. According to Cobblestone, this technology will make computers easier to use.

The idea behind PaperDisk is to enable users to perform computer tasks--such as viewing a Web page, paying a bill online, or posting an envelope with an electronic stamp--with little more than a single scan.

PaperDisk works by translating computer files and/or applications into bar code-like patterns, or "datatiles," that are printed on

  how it works
Storage capacity:
1 megabyte of data on one side of an 8.5"x11" sheet of paper.
paper. Downstream users then feed the datatiles into a scanner, for PaperDisk to recreate the files on these users' computers.

"This is something so easy to do that 90 percent of people can do it, while most people refuse to touch a mouse or a keyboard," says Cobblestone president Tom Antognini. "The way things are now you have to push all kinds of buttons."

PaperDisk datatiles are more secure than online files and cheaper than CDs, according to Antognini.

PaperDisk, which has been in the works for 3-1/2 years, became available as shareware in June. Cobblestone hopes to hitch its wagon to a partnership with a large organization--such as a bank, a utility company, or the U.S. Postal Service--that will use the technology to provide services.

Other potential uses include sending computer files by fax, printing computer files on business cards or direct mail, and backing up files to paper.

Is Antognini concerned about the death of the paperless office? "Clearly people prefer paper," he says, "though most of the high-tech industry is in denial about that."