A few years ago, OmniPage was in the doldrums, burdened with an interface that still had traces of its origins in the late 1980s, and built on an OCR engine that couldn’t match the power and accuracy of the talented newcomer, our consistent Editor’s Choice OCR app, ABBYY FineReader Professional. Well, times have changed, and OmniPage Ultimate, the latest version, is a worthy challenger to FineReader Professional, and a close contender for sharing honors as Editors’ Choice. I was surprised and impressed to see the way OmniPage has developed. It still suffers from some ancient and awkward features, and like other apps that have been around for decades (think Microsoft Office) it’s cluttered with a mix of creaky older features and sleek new ones. But the sleek new features include some impressively convenient ways of automating OCR tasks, especially in a corporate setting.
OmniPage Ultimate combines multiple apps and services, with different interfaces for each. The heart of the package is the OmniPage Ultimate app that actually performs OCR tasks. It’s now in version 19, and is the direct heir to the long line of OCR apps that used to be called OmniPage Pro. Next is OmniPage LaunchPad, an app for creating automated workflows that use the OmniPage Ultimate engine to perform OCR tasks and then saves the output; more about OmniPage LaunchPad in a moment. Third is the Nuance Cloud Connector, a cloud-storage service a bit like Microsoft SkyDrive or Apple’s iCloud or Adobe Creative Cloud. Fourth is Nuance PDF Create, a simple interface for converting document and other files into PDF format, but not a full WYSIWYG PDF editor like Nuance PDF Converter or Adobe Acrobat Pro.
As in most packages that were put together from apps originally written by different vendors at different times, this collection suffers from a confusingly inconsistent visual style, ranging from the simple and up-to-date Windows 8-style drag-and-drop boxes used in OmniPage Launchpad, to the old-style, high-powered, feature-rich toolbar-and-dropdown interface in the main OmniPage Ultimate OCR app. Fortunately, you’ll probably do most of your work in only one of these interfaces, and won’t need to sort out the different ways they operate.
OmniPage Launchpad is designed to make things simple. At the top of the window, the app asks “What do you want to do?” Below that are three columns headed “Convert,” “To,” and “Save.” Each column contains large colored boxes that let you choose whether you want to convert (for example) a magazine or a legal document, whether you want to convert it to (for example) Word, WordPerfect, HTML, or Excel, and whether you want to save the result as (for example) a file on disk or on Dropbox, an e-mail attachment, or an item in Evernote. You click on one box from each column to a blank set of boxes on the right to create what the program calls a “Go-flow,” meaning an automated task that you can perform with a single click.
At the foot of this interface is another set of boxes that act as toggles that fine-tune the current Go-flow. For example, you can click on a box that toggles between saving the output as a single file including all pages or as separate files for each page. When you’re done, you simply double-click on a Go-flow to get the process started. Unfortunately, you can’t specify that a Go-flow should always start with (for example) an image imported from a scanner or from an existing file, so when you start a Go-flow you get prompted to choose an input source, which can be frustrating if you expected the LaunchPad to create fully-automated workflows instead of almost fully-automated ones.
When you work inside the large-scale OmniPage Ultimate app itself, instead of the LaunchPad, you can create fully automated workflows with a dazzling variety of options, just as you can with ABBYY FineReader Professional. The main difference is that ABBYY lets you add your own workflows to its startup interface, so that you can select a workflow with a single click, while OmniPage Ultimate hides your choice of workflows under a dropdown menu on its toolbar.
It may take you a while to figure out that the same options have different names in OmniPage Launchpad and OmniPage Ultimate. For example, in OmniPage Launchpad you select “Magazine” as the input for the kind of input that OmniPage Ultimate calls “Multiple columns, no table.” Also, the “Legal” input option in OmniPage Launchpad corresponds to the option to load a legal dictionary in addition to the standard dictionary in OmniPage Ultimate. I see the point of making these options easy to choose, but it would be good to have some clear indication of how the options in OmniPage Launchpad map to the ones in OmniPage Ultimate.
When you proofread scanned images in OmniPage, you can now work with the app’s traditional multi-pane interface, with the scanned image in one pane and the editable, recognized text in another, or you can switch to a new high-tech “flexible view” that combines both scanned image and editable text in a single window, with editable text appearing on a semi-transparent background with the scanned image in the background.
This view sounds better that it is, because the editable text doesn’t line up with the scanned image, so it’s more awkward than it needs to be to compare the image and text. My guess—it’s only a guess—is that this feature will be improved in a future version. Right now, it’s more of an interesting new concept than an effective way to work.
Nuance has upgraded OmniPage Ultimate’s OCR engine to the point where it shares top honors with ABBYY FineReader’s. In working with scanned images from old books and magazines, both OmniPage and FineReader produced good but imperfect results, but they were imperfect in different and unpredictable ways. In some cases, OmniPage correctly sorted out the format of a complex page that FineReader scrambled. In other cases, FineReader got it right and OmniPage got it wrong. Each made different mistakes in reading scanned text, but both made more or less the same number of mistakes.
I prefer FineReader’s proofreading interface, which is elegantly designed to be usable with the fewest possible keystrokes. But OmniPage’s interface cleverly lets you choose among suggested alternate readings by pressing Ctrl and the number next to each suggestion—while FineReader makes you navigate with the arrow keys or click with the mouse. If your OCR work makes you choose often among suggested replacements, you may find OmniPage preferable, but it’s a close match.
Other impressive features in OmniPage include image-enhancement tools on a par with FineReader’s and an effective text-to-speech module that reads scanned text aloud as an aid in proofreading. As you’d expect from the vendor of Dragon NaturallySpeaking, this feature works exceptionally well.
The Nuance Cloud Connector Web service—which requires a paid subscription for its advanced features—makes sense for corporate users. It’s built on the Gladinet cloud storage service, and makes possible such advanced features (which I didn’t test) as saving a document to one storage service (like Amazon) and automatically moving it to another (like Microsoft’s SkyDrive). But if you already use a service like Dropbox or SkyDrive, you may want to uninstall Nuance Cloud Connector to avoid cluttering your system with yet another cloud-based drive letter.
When we looked at the last version of OmniPage, only its interface kept it from sharing Editors’ Choice with ABBYY FineReader Professional. That’s still true about the new version, but OmniPage has a lot of strengths, especially for corporate settings, and everyone in the market for the highest-power OCR owes it to themselves to try both of these packages before deciding.