Acrobat Messenger: the document specialist

If you have been waiting for the digital revolution to eliminate the reams, if not mountains, of paper that pass through your departments and workgroups, it's time to face the facts: paper is not going away. If anything, increased computer use probably has led to a rise in the number of documents that are printed, copied, collated and mailed - at significant cost to your company.

For sales, marketing, human resources, and other departments burdened by the hassle and costs of distributing paper documents, Adobe Systems has introduced an application, aptly named Acrobat Messenger, that transforms a Windows NT 4.0 workstation and attached sheet-fed scanner into an easy-to-use document-scanning and -distributing kiosk.

Messenger allows you to scan documents into Acrobat PDF format and e-mail them, fax them, or post them to the Web, helping to eliminate the cost and time associated with sending hard copy documents. In terms of ROI, the more paper you distribute in your daily operations, the more you stand to save by using Messenger. Your biggest savings will come from reduced shipping expenses. Of course, because electronic documents can be delivered immediately, you'll also gain from faster workflow.

A third benefit is that Messenger lets you create an archiving system of PDF files, thanks to the included Apache Web server and OCR (optical character recognition) software. Although each scanned document appears exactly like the original, allowing you to preserve handwritten notes and signatures, all of the text is searchable using Acrobat Reader.

Simple scanning and sending

Messenger's scanning and delivery functions are seamlessly integrated into a very easy-to-use interface. Anyone with rudimentary mouse skills can scan documents using Messenger and save them directly to a networked desktop system, send them as an e-mail attachment or as a fax, or post them to Messenger's built-in Web server.

Adobe designed Messenger to completely take over a Windows NT workstation. While Messenger is running, the Windows desktop is completely hidden, eliminating access to the regular NT environment.

This provides straightforward kiosk-like operation to users but means that the cost of the solution includes not only a scanner with an automatic document feeder but also a dedicated PC (minimum requirements are a 400MHz processor, 4 Gbytes of drive space, and 128 Mbytes of RAM) with NT Workstation on it.

The interface of the program provides an appropriate selection of choices at each action and leads users step by step through the scanning and sending process. There are no pull-down menus; every option is available by simply clicking a button.

When I logged in, I was presented with a big, green Start button and a red Goodbye button. Pressing Start took me to a screen that allowed me to define the particulars of the document I wanted to scan (whether it was black-and-white, double-sided, and so on). I then loaded the document into the scanner and pressed Scan.

After scanning, I was able to proof the document to make sure each page was scanned properly. Editing options include the ability to reshuffle pages, scan new pages and incorporate them, attach voice annotations or sticky notes, and mark up the document with an electronic pencil or stamps, such as draft or confidential.

I tested Messenger using a variety of documents including a highly formatted, 130-page script that included handwritten markups. I used the Fujitsu ScanPartner 600c, one of the scanners recommended by Adobe. Although some pages required multiple tries before scanning properly, most of the pages scanned successfully on the first attempt. I was especially impressed with the OCR software that recognised what I thought were illegible words.

Easy administration

Administration of Messenger is also straightforward. By pressing Ctrl-Alt-Delete, the administrator is presented with a password challenge from Messenger. If answered correctly, Messenger will take the administrator back to the regular NT interface. From there he or she can run Messenger's Java configuration program and specify the length of time documents will stay posted on the Web site, which mail server to use for sending e-mail, and which printer to use.

Messenger's level of performance is directly proportional to the amount of memory installed on the machine. Don't even think about installing less than 128 Mbytes of RAM in the Messenger workstation if you plan on scanning documents more than a couple of pages long.

If distributing paper documents is part of your process, Messenger can save shipping expenses and the valuable time it takes for paper to travel from one place to another. It's not cheap, though; all told you will need about $4000 to set it up.

Nevertheless, if closing the loop on the paper to digital processing is important to your business, I recommend you look at Adobe's latest offering.

Adobe Acrobat Messenger

Business case: for departments and workgroups that routinely distribute paper documents, Acrobat Messenger can reduce copying, mailing, and courier costs. This solution requires the additional costs of a dedicated workstation and scanner.

Technology case: Messenger creates an easy-to-use kiosk for scanning documents, saving them in PDF format, and distributing them via fax, e-mail, or the Web. Messenger requires no user training and minimal attention from administrators.

Pros:

+ Very easy to use

+ Many delivery options

+ Can create searchable documents

+ Preserves look of original documents

Cons:

- Expensive

- Document recipients require Adobe Acrobat ReaderCost: $2975Platform(s): Windows NT 4.0 WorkstationCapture formats documents for the WebBy Patrick MarshallYou've got 5000 pages of human resources manuals your boss wants you to post on the intranet by tomorrow, and the documents must retain the original formatting and be searchable by users. You can either stay up all night scanning, formatting, and indexing, or you can load Adobe Systems' Acrobat Capture.

Capture has a narrowly defined purpose: converting scanned hard-copy documents into collections of searchable electronic documents. It controls the scanning, zoning, and recognition of scanned pages and then converts them into Acrobat's PDF files.

With the just-released Version 3.0, Cluster Edition, Adobe has transformed Capture into a tool suitable for large enterprises with heavy loads of documents to move to the Web.

The new Cluster Edition has no page limitation, offers load balancing across multiple workstations, and supports both dual-and quad-processor systems. Administrators can dole out various processing jobs to specified workstations, for example, routing all documents to a designated staff person for zoning and character recognition.

By automating the processing of documents from hard copy to searchable electronic text and by allowing you to distribute the workload within the enterprise.

Capture's new interface is at first a little daunting, in part because it displays so much information. The left-hand panel has four tabs: Configure, Scan, Submit, and Watch. Clicking on the Configure tab causes Capture to display all of the available workflows, which are recipes for how documents will be processed, indicating which steps will be performed by whom. Creating new workflows, as well as editing existing ones, is easy with a generous set of templates. You can drag and drop steps from one workflow to another, and customising each step is straightforward via intelligently designed dialogue boxes.

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