ABBYY FineReader OCR 8.0 delivers accurate text recognition quickly, and excels at high-end OCR automation. Abbyy FineReader 8.0 Professional Edition offers a new ability to automate common OCR tasks. It also adds a wealth of new features for making recognition work better for a wider range of originals, most notably text in books, PDF files, and digital photos.

PDF has become the lingua franca of the online document world because Adobe gives away the Reader program free. So it's a good thing that FineReader expands its Adobe Acrobat PDF file capabilities in version 7.0. FineReader not only now supports most available types of PDF, it also exports PDFs and extracts text from PDFs, a capability that turns PDF into an editable file format.

FineReader 8.0, similar in many ways to OmniPage, follows the same design as earlier versions. Its main screen shows thumbnails of pages on the left, a graphic image of the currently selected page in the middle, and an editing pane with recognized text on the right. But FineReader adds a Zoom pane across the bottom that displays a magnified version of the area in the image you're currently editing. You can also send the text to Word to edit and correct, with the Zoom pane still active.

A welcome new feature is the ability to define common OCR tasks to run with a single command. For example, one predefined procedure asks you to pick an image file, then opens the file, recognizes the text, and sends the result to Word. A wizard makes it easy to define your own procedures.

FineReader's speed and accuracy have improved, too, and the software now works hand-in-hand with Microsoft Office 2003. For example, you can scan a document directly into the middle of a Word 2003 document, then use Word's own proofing tools to correct the recognized text. You can also output scanned documents to PowerPoint 2003, making it easy to create presentations from existing documents.

FineReader provides powerful and intuitive features after you’ve become adept with the program and have taught it to work your way. That’s especially true in the Corporate Edition ($599.99 per concurrent license, reviewed here), in which you can fully automate batch scan scheduling using a Hot Folder without manually invoking FineReader. Professionals and small businesses that don’t demand networked scanning access and the more automated features will prefer the pocketbook-friendlier Professional Edition ($399.99). Either way, expect more of a learning curve than for lower-end OCR alternatives that serve move casual users.

The company also touts a number of enhancements when extracting text from PDF files, including, perhaps optimistically, a speed increase of up to 200 percent. Other new features include recognition of hyperlinks in scanned text, and defining file properties such as author and keywords when saving output to HTML, XML, PDF, .doc, and Microsoft Reader’s e-book .lit formats.

The notable installation exception is that FineReader 7.0 now requires product activation. If you're connected to the Internet, it's simple to complete this copy-protection step. If you can't connect to the Internet, however, FineReader will run--in a crippled state that won't save or print recognized text.

The FineReader interface makes basic OCR tasks as simple or as complex as you'd like. Right below the standard menu bar, you'll find a toolbar with five large icons. One launches several one-step scan and read operations, ideal for beginners who need help wading through many OCR options. The other four buttons control individual steps, letting you scan, read, proofread, and save the recognized pages as a document. More-experienced OCR users will find that additional toolbars provide quick access to advanced functions such as recognition zone adjustments, image editing, and rotation.

Technical support for Abbyy FineReader is very good; Abbyy offers free support for registered users for the life of the product. The company's online technical support site offers a wealth of useful information, including a list of tested and supported scanners. You can also contact the company for technical support by e-mail or by phone. Phone support is available via a toll call Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT.

If you do a lot of optical character recognition and require a high-end solution, the latest ABBYY FineReader OCR is tough to beat. A side-by-side display of the original image and FineReader's text capture makes it easy to proofread the program's output.