Thursday, March 15, 2007

A new scanner

Almost a year ago, I lamented that my HP ScanJet 2300c was not supported by OS X. I struggled with TWAIN SANE for OS X for a short while, and gave up, concluding that the whole saga just wasn't what Mac ownership was supposed to be all about. The ScanJet scanned faithfully (into its atrocious Windows-based software) for about another 10 months, and then recently died. (Well, it still scans things into quite a nice shade of blue, but that's not amusing for very long.) Yesterday, I needed to scan some documents, so I set about buying a new flat-bed scanner.

My first stop was Apple's Mac OS X Scanner Support page. I seem to recall that page (or one like it) offering a detailed list of supported hardware, but no more. Now:
Most flatbed and film scanners that use a FireWire (IEEE 1394) or USB connection work with Mac OS X. Mac OS X even offers built-in support -- no drivers or plug-ins necessary -- for many scanners using its Image Capture Architecture (ICA). Applications that directly support acquiring images from TWAIN devices, such as Microsoft Word and Adobe Photoshop, have access to any installed TWAIN Data Source (DS). The Image Capture application in Mac OS X, and programs such as iPhoto that access its capabilities, have access to any installed DS as well as native ICA drivers.

Sounds marvelous. I suspect that the more useful advice appears two paragraphs later, however:
Please check with the manufacturer of your device to find out about specific Mac compatibility.

My second stop was a nearby Officeworks store. It quickly became obvious that flat-bed, colour document scanners are a dying breed: everything's multi-function. While I could probably do with a fax machine, I certainly don't need a second laser printer, and I prefer devices that do one thing well anyway. (I don't use the camera in my mobile phone, and I don't store music on my Palm TX.) I simply couldn't find a single Hewlett-Packard ScanJet model of any description—have they stopped making them? In fact, the only standalone scanners were a couple of Canon's CanoScan range, about which I knew nothing. So, by this time well and truly over Officeworks' supermarket ambience, I left the store.

My third stop was (and uttering the name makes me shudder) Harvey Norman. The store was nearby, and I knew they sold peripherals. Again, I sought a ScanJet, and again I was disappointed. This store had two brands of standalone, flat-bed scanners, at least—Canon and Epson. (I actually asked a nearby sales-droid about HP ScanJet scanners. He seemed to indicate that they had some in recently, but had "sold out". He also thought they were "getting more in", and that they were expecting "new models". It also sounded like this was the response he gave to all similar questions.) Anyway, I was running out of interest in the whole project at this point, so I figured I would buy a low-end Canon model, since I owned a Canon camera and a Canon photo-printer. Maybe I'd win something if I completed a set.

Though momentarily distracted by the idea of buying a much larger and more expensive model that scanned 35mm negatives, I settled on the CanoScan LiDE 25 for two reasons: it was cheap, and I like catching myself just before making an impulse buy. It also had a nice OS X logo on the box. It cost $A 119.95.

Back home, I fired up the installer application on the supplied CD. It was woeful software. (Why, for the love of god, in 2007, would anyone be using roll-your-own installers instead of drag-and-drop installation, or the OS X installer?) It had a single redeeming feature: I could choose which of the six or seven components available I wanted to install. So I unchecked a few boxes and installed what I presume are the bare essentials.

To be fair, the "CanoScan Toolbox 4.9" software supplied is quite reasonable. It is launched on pressing one of the three buttons on the front of the scanner. If you supply it with information about the appropriate applications to call, it will do sensible things with each of the button presses: the first (Scan) scans the document, saves a JPG to disk, and opens it in Preview; the second (Copy) scans the document, saves a JPG to disk, and sends it to my LaserJet; and the third (Email) scans the document, saves a JPG to disk, opens Mail, starts a new email and inserts the JPG as an attachment. Neat.

The scanner itself is a little on the slow side. Doing a colour scan at the upper end of its resolution capability took well over a minute for an A4 page. Scaling that back a bit reduced the time to an acceptable 20-30 seconds, but I wouldn't want to be scanning multiple pages every day. On the upside, it's obviously a very low-power device, as it has no power adapter and draws power directly from USB. Nice.

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