FUJITSU SCANSNAP S1500

scansnap Fujitsu introduced a new compact office scanner, the ScanSnap S1500, a few months ago. It’s inexpensive for what it does ($450 or less), and quite fast – 20 pages per minute for single-sided pages, 40 pages per minute for two-sided pages. It produces nice PDF files in a hurry from a 50-page document feeder. On top of all that, it’s stylish. A nice little package!

My client called because the scanner software appeared to have installed correctly but the scanner didn’t show up in Acrobat as a source to create a PDF. One of the strengths of Acrobat 8 and 9 is that they take over the scanning process, hiding the proprietary controls provided by the scanner manufacturer so the scanning process is consistent no matter what scanner is used.

But.

In their infinite wisdom, Fujitsu decided not to supply the industry-standard TWAIN driver that Acrobat and every other program uses to talk to a scanner. If you buy a ScanSnap S1500, you must use Fujitsu’s proprietary software. Here’s how one reviewer describes what that means:

The ScanSnap’s software—and particularly its scan utility—demands special mention, both for what’s good about it and what’s bad. With any scanner, the included software is a key component in determining what the scanner can and can’t do. That’s been particularly true for all of the ScanSnap models—including the S1500—because Fujitsu doesn’t provide a standard driver that will let you use the scan command from within a program.

If you have a driver, you can use it with, say, an optical character recognition (OCR) program, so you can open the OCR program and use the program’s scan command to bring up the driver. You can then adjust the scan settings if necessary, scan, and work with the scanned document.

In many cases—if you’re adding scanned pages to a document you already have open, for example—this is the most convenient approach to scanning. And there are few, if any, other scanners that don’t come with a driver—most often a Twain driver—to let you work this way. With the S1500, however, you’re locked into scanning through Fujitsu’s scan utility, which may or may not feel straightforward to you or easy to use, depending on your tastes, work habits, and experience with scanning. . . .

Although the S1500 is easy to recommend, the recommendation comes with a hedge. The lack of a standard driver will be a potential issue for some people, and that’s just enough to keep the scanner from being an Editors’ Choice. If you’re used to scanning using your favorite program’s scan command, and you prefer scanning that way, you will likely find that the ScanSnap approach feels counterintuitive. But if you like the S1500’s approach to scanning—or can at least tolerate it (which is how I feel about it)—it will be hard to find a better choice at this price.

There is no reasonable way to predict something like this. It wouldn’t have occurred to me that an office scanner wouldn’t allow Adobe Acrobat to do a scan! A detail like that might turn up in reviews but non-technical people won’t understand its significance. As I’ve said before, the openness of the PC world can sometimes seem like a weakness instead of a strength.

I should emphasize that the Fujitsu software might be quite nice. This story isn’t about a failure. The office is keeping the scanner. With luck, they’ll figure out how to use the software and start plowing through piles of paper.

But it bothers me when things are inconsistent or nonstandard for no reason. Arbitrary choices like this are really frustrating.