Eric Mack and Tracy Hooten have presented themselves with a Tablet PC challenge by going paperless for the next 10 weeks. Tracy is a student and Eric is a technologist so no doubt they will each find different challenges in front of them with this attempt to get everything digital.
I have been paperless for a few months now and it has enhanced my ability to keep on top of various projects. I can point to literally dozens of meetings when a question arose about some obscure piece of information doled out in a meeting long past and I was able to pinpoint it in OneNote with a simple search. This impresses my clients to no end and makes it easier for me to deal with reams of information generated throughout the life of my individual projects. Many times contractors have scrounged around for images and maps that we need to look at and I find it in less than a minute. We then spend the rest of the discussion huddled around my Tablet PC reviewing the image.
I suppose I should offer a few words of advice since I am already at the point Eric and Tracy want to reach, even though it’s unsolicited. First and foremost, the scanner is your friend. The scanner is the primary way to get paper documents into your Tablet and it’s a good idea to spend a little bit of time experimenting with the best way to scan stuff. Most scanners provide more than one way to get paper into digital form and I’ve found that if I decide up front how I intend to interact with the data I can optimize the scanning process to reflect that intention. For example, if I intend to scan a document into OneNote, I find it much easier to start the scanning process from within OneNote. There’s an option on the INSERT/ PICTURE menu that allows you to select the scanner as the source. The resultant dialog box lets you choose between Web quality and Print quality. If I am pretty sure I won’t want to print the scanned document (I am paperless, right?) then I choose Web quality which produces a smaller, almost thumbnail like image in OneNote. I like keeping documents in this small size as I can see an overview of the page very easily. Don’t worry though, this small image can be resized by grabbing the corner and dragging it bigger, without losing any resolution at all. Because of this I like having all pages of a document represented as a series of thumbnails, all visible on one page. I love this and use it almost all the time.
Secondly, and this is obvious but should be said, always ask the other party for the digital file. You won’t always get it but I find that for the most part the other person has the document in digital form and will email it to you if you ask. But, and this is important, I find that if I leave the meeting without the digital file in hand I may never receive it without following up numerous times and asking for it over and over. This is where EVDO comes in very handy. I ask right at the meeting, if it’s in a setting where the other party is sitting in front of a PC or workstation, for them to send it right then so I can refer to it. I find that most people are more than happy to do so as it eliminates their need to follow up, too. Once I have that digital file there are a number of ways to get it into your Tablet depending on the file format. For Word documents (my favorite), I simply drag the file to my OneNote page. When you do this you get several options but my favorite is to insert it as a background. This puts the document at a slightly reduced scale into OneNote so I can ink all over it. It also puts a link back to the original document on your PC so if you need to visit the Word file it’s a single click away.
For other file formats I use the great Send to OneNote utility that installs with the Microsoft Education Pack. This is a virtual print driver that can be used from within any program and will “print” the document straight into OneNote. Just remember to select the destination before actually printing so you don’t have to move the resultant page to its intended home. The Send to OneNote 2003 utility can also be invoked as a stand-alone program offering you a bit more control over the output.
Lastly, if the document is one you feel needs to be converted to text for searching, then you can always scan it with the OCR option that most scanners provide. You’ll have to do a bit of correcting but you can output it in Word format and use the drag and drop method I described above. You should also remember that Microsoft has stated the next version of OneNote will not only OCR imported documents in the background for searching purposes but it will also do the same for scanned images you have already done. That scanned document you bring into OneNote today will be searchable in the next version without you doing anything further. This will also apply to documents you snap pictures of with your camera phone, for instance, so you could snap a photo of that business card you get in a meeting and OneNote will be able to search for the name. Can you say “contact notepage”? I knew you could.