Worth the irritating install
FineReader 6.0 prompts you to register online with Abbyy during installation. If you're running certain programs on your system, such as Roxio's Easy CD Creator, you'll have to register FineReader online or by phone in order to get it to work. Since software registration rarely benefits the user as much as it does the publisher's marketing department, you may find this detail annoying. On the bright side, registration gives you a code to unlock the demo version of FormFiller, a program that comes free with FineReader and lets you design and fill out your own forms onscreen. We guess that this will coax folks who work with lots of forms to register.
The paper eater
This program's main work screen makes scanning easy. It features four panes and a toolbar full of large buttons that provide quick access to fundamental functions, such as scan, read, and spell-check. The left-hand column displays thumbnails of all the pages you've scanned in the current session. In the center is a split view that contains a graphical image of the current scanned page and FineReader's textual interpretation of the page. Finally, a footer window contains an enlarged view of the scanned image across the bottom.
The program works with almost any TWAIN scanner or device, such as a digital camera, and lets you view and manage the scan process within either the device's driver or FineReader's own interface. This flexibility offers some benefits; you may find instances where one will work better for the task at hand than the other. For example, in our tests using an HP OfficeJet G85, a multifunction device that includes a flatbed scanner, the HP driver interface yielded more accurate results, and its default settings worked better with some pages. On the other hand, the FineReader option lets you scan multiple pages simultaneously, using the OfficeJet's automatic document feeder feature.
FineReader reads Adobe Acrobat PDF files from your hard drive and converts them into editable documents with reasonable accuracy. And the spelling checker not only finds misspelled words, it also checks for any questionable results. On one test page, for example, it often mistook the for die but asked for verification because it was uncertain of the accuracy. When checking spelling, FineReader displays a zoomed image of the original document so that you can quickly correct these types of errors.
The proof's on the page
In our tests, FineReader accurately maintained the fonts, formatting, and layouts of most original scanned pages. It also managed to convert a table of text and numbers from a PDF file into a Microsoft Word table with only a few inaccurate font attributes or misread characters. Reversed text, text over colored backgrounds, and text over images, such as on a magazine page, posed few problems for FineReader. However, when we saved a properly scanned document as a PDF, the resulting file contained some inaccurate formatting and layout results. For example, FineReader interpreted a few lines of text in the middle of a column as graphics instead of text because the program was not confident that it had identified some letters correctly. Thankfully, turning off the "Replace uncertain words with images" setting when saving PDF files eliminated this problem.
Skimpy support; slim price
Unfortunately, FineReader's documentation introduces its own flaws. The included instructions are sparse, and the manual contains no index. FormFiller comes with no printed documentation at all, leaving you to roam adequate but superficial digital help files that it installs onto your hard drive. Abbyy offers little documentation for FineReader, just the printed manual, help files, and a tutorial on your hard drive. Nor is there a toll-free number for technical support, though the help you get--free via a toll call, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT, except holidays--is polite, accurate, and to the point.
Considering that you often get decent OCR software free with a new scanner, FineReader's $299 standard price tag is a bit steep. Fortunately, the program costs a far more reasonable $149 if you own any OCR package, including those you get with scanners.
Right for the job
FineReader 6.0 Professional thoroughly accomplishes its primary task: helping you convert paper documents into files you can edit on your computer. It deftly retains formatting and layout details and, for the most part, accurately translates text and makes it easy to correct errors. It is a clear cut above the stripped-down OCR utilities bundled with most scanners, and is on a par with its main competitor, ScanSoft's OmniPage 11.0. FineReader even outperforms OmniPage in some areas, including wrapping text around graphics that are embedded in a column. If you must input large documents or books into your computer, this versatile tool will save you hours or days of work.