Author: Stephen J. Kayner
Date: June, 1993
Keywords: application program software review scanner image management document
Text: The Optix product manual states that it is a document image management application for scanning, storing, retrieving, and displaying images captured from paper and other media using a scanner and Apple Macintosh II (or newer) computers. This means that Optix is a way of storing and viewing images of documents on the computer rather than using file cabinets and boxes full of paper. More than that, Optix is a database for images, with search and sort capabilities. There is a stand-alone version of Optix, and Optix-Network, which is a UNIX based application. There are also several add-ins for Optix, such as Optical Character Recognition (OCR), Text Search, Fax and Print Server modules, and interface boards for scanning and printing capability enhancements. The stand-alone Optix 3.0 ships on four 800K diskettes, and does not include an install program. The files are simply dragged to a folder on the hard disk. The 700+ page manual comes in a three-ring, slip-covered binder, making it handy for updating to new versions. This is an industrial-strength system that requires considerable computing power and storage space to make it effective in handling large numbers and sizes of documents. It requires a 68020 or higher processor, 8 MB of RAM (when used with System 7), and Blueridge Technologies suggests the use of optical drives, and high resolution, large format monitors. I was unable to start Optix on a Mac IIcx with System 7 and 4 MB of RAM, because it needs 3 MB to run. It worked fine on a Mac IIci with 8 MB of RAM. The manual goes on to suggest more RAM will be needed for larger images at higher resolutions. For example, an E size image scanned at 200 dpi needs 7.5 MB, plus 3 MB for the application, plus two or more MB for the operating system -- this could run out to a need for 16 MB! Clearly this is not a system for storing your clip art and QuickTime clips (it doesn't do QuickTime). Organizations and individuals that process large numbers of documents can benefit from this technology by reducing time spent handling paper, and cutting down on paper used for distributing copies of documents. Scanned images can be stored as individual pages, or grouped as a document. Thumbnail images are used to move among the images within a document. The Optix database acts as an index to the stored images, and the user can design a form for the database using the Screen Generator. There are a few simple, MacPaint style drawing tools for modifying images, but these are probably not adequate for more than the simplest of modifications. Any given workstation can be set up for view-only operation (no modifications allowed) using the Admin module. The Admin functions can be password protected, and are not needed for the standalone version of Optix. Optix 3.0 also has the capability to store ''Sticky Notes'' on images. This is handy, but I would also like to see something in the database that indicates whether or not a note has been posted, rather than having to view an image to check it for notes. The basic Optix package supports a fair number of popular scanners, including the Apple Scanner, HP's ScanJet +, the Sharp JX450, and the Microtek 300ZS, and some models that I'd not heard of, including Fujitsu, Vidar, Ricoh, Mekel, and Contex scanners. Printer support includes any listed in the Chooser, and special drivers for Ricoh, Calcomp 52436, GCC PLP-2S, LaserWriter SC, and Greensheet printers. Greensheet printers may require an interface board that is available from Blueridge Technologies. For fastest printing speed, a direct SCSI connection is most desirable. Optix supports TIFF, PICT and MacPaint graphics formats, as well as the more obscure CALS, USPTO, Alpharel, and LaserData formats. Other formats may be added through plug-ins provided by Blueridge Technologies. The standard format is black and white TIFF, CCITT Group IV. Compression ratios range from 10:1 to 20:1 for black and white images, and from 2:1 to 3:1 for gray-scale or color images. A D-size black and white sample image included with Optix used 372 K of disk space, but it required an application size of 5 MB to load. Even with that much RAM, Optix would not load the image until it was restarted to clear the program memory. Optix version 3 was shipped for review, but Blueridge has recently released version 4, which offers numerous enhancements, mostly in the way of Add-ons (read: more cost) to the basic product. There are now Add-on modules for Text Search, Fax Server, Print Server, and other integrated capabilities. The Text Search module supports Boolean and Natural Language searching of text files. Version 4 has better support for creating and editing text files (MS Word files are recognized), and has Find and Replace functions for text files. Support for more text formats is under way. Version 4 now supports all of the required AppleEvents, and takes better advantage of the System 7 environment. It permits the use of files created by any other Macintosh applications, including indexing, storage and retrieval of those files. The basic database engine used for the standalone and fileshare versions is new, and includes better repair and more database functionality. The product now supports queue processing for OCR operations (an Add-on module), adding to text searches, and delayed indexing. Optix v.4 allows editing operations within and between documents, and objects can now be cut and pasted without having to view them. Sounds a little scary to me, but we'll have to trust them on this one, as I never really got to see version 4 in the flesh. I found Optix 3.0 to be more difficult to learn than FileMaker Pro (a non-relational database), but less difficult to learn than 4th Dimension (a relational database). The program makes fair, but not excellent use of the Macintosh graphical environment. There are a few areas that could stand improvement, and version 4 may have resolved some of the difficulty in the menu length and configuration, and the use of hot keys. I still feel the version 3 Screen Generator interface could use some improvement, and I hope Blueridge will do this rework by the time version 5 is released. Optix offers considerably more features than can be described in the space allotted for this review. Suffice it to say that this is a big-time application, and with the plethora of Add-in modules available, it could bring about positive changes in the way paper-intensive organizations do business. I know I'll never be the same... Optix 4.0 is from: Blueridge Technologies, Inc. P.O. Box 430 Flint Hill Square Flint Hill, VA 22627-0430 (703)675-3015 Optix 4.0, the stand-alone version retails for $695, and the Network version is available for $695 per user, with site licensing available for more than 5 users.
Copyright © june, 1993 by Stephen J. Kayner