Dear Abbyy

Software inefficiency can always outpace Moore’s Law. — Jaron Lanier, quoted in Scott Rosenberg’s column today. This is one reason why I don’t tend to buy software, and,when I do buy it, it never runs faster than the thing it replaces. I really, seriously, have never had a program that looks up names and addresses as fast and fusslessly as a DOS TSR I used back in 1990, when collating the Best of the Independent book on a Compaq laptop with a gigantic 20 MB hard disk.

But the OCR program I use occasionally, TextBridge Pro 98 (the fruit of an ancient blag when writing for the Mail) has been getting slower and crankier with every improvement on the computer that runs it. So yesterday I tried a Russian program, Abbyy Finereader. Given the choice I would always buy a Russian program over an American one, because it’s more likely to have been written to run well than to sell well. I didn’t really want it to do anything more than output its results to the clipboard, something Textbridge refuses to do. Finereader will do that; but it also recognises at about three times the speed and twice the accuracy. So I’ll buy it.

I wonder if more software could be sold if it did the old job quicker, better, and with less fuss, rather than thinking up new jobs. I don’t suppose, though, that there’ll ever be a large enough sample of such programs to test the theory.

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3 Responses to Dear Abbyy

  1. Rupert says:

    There’s tons of single-task software out there, mostly the product of one man bands and mostly sold as shareware.

    It is of uneven quality, to say the least, badly tested, with many innovative user interfaces that go a long way to support the theory that IT serves a useful social role as occupational therapy for borderline autistics.

    I’ve just got an iPod, which has forced a long-overdue reorganisation of my chaotic vastness of MP3s. First task is to de-dupe the obvious copies (*), which I would normally do with some hand-rolled DOS batch files (old habits, etc). But I was sure that others would have had the same problem, so I went looking for utilities. So far, I’ve tried three, all of which promise something of what I want and none of which seem up to the job. The last one took an overnight run: I came down to breakfast to find an incomprehensible error message.

    I’m probably not going to send the $20 required for support.

    Perhaps this is unfair. I know how much work it is to build a program to the point of utility, and testing it is easily the larger part. PCs might look like an homogenous environment, but there are an infinite number of permutations to test against.

    I don’t think we’ll see much happen unless we get online groups capable of applying the expertise of multiple people to small projects – you have a good idea, you hash out the core logic and then you go to Mr Interface to build you a decent front end. Then you schlep it off to Mr Tester And His Five Hundred Monkeys, who runs it through the mill. On a production line basis, it would be possible that way to create quite a large number of workable utilities: open source projects sort of work this way, sometimes, but people tend to concentrate on one project at a time.

    What we need is a FOSS Henry Ford. Any software you like, as long as it works.


    • there are plenty of non-obvious copies with differing names, tags, file sizes, etc. It’s a surprisingly interesting problem, a small example of the biggest headache we’ll face as the entire world lurches towards our strange new digital destiny.)
  2. el Patron says:

    Well, Abbyy is not shareware in any interesting sense of the word. There is a time-limited demo available, but it’s just that, and expires solidly at the end of the time.

    As for the particular MP3 problem, have you tried something called mp3rat? very fast indexing and sorting on all sorts of criteria, so it’s easy to find and eliminate dupes.

    I have a surprisingly long list of Windows programs that do one thing and do it well. But for the sort of collaboraiton you want, I think that only money will do the trick, and no one has yet worked out how to get it flowing in the necessary ways.

  3. Rupert says:

    MP3Rat looks good… but it’s still frustrating for deduping. User interface flaws are one reason, lack of basic logic another. You’ve found two apparently identical files and there they are, nestled next to each other in the list: where are they? You can only look at the properties one at a time — no comparisons possible — and you can only see a bit of the path in that blasted modal dialog box.

    If you have a directory called ‘misc’ in which stuff gets put prior to sorting, and if you don’t always sort everything in one sitting and if you don’t always remember to delete the original, you end up with some stuff in that directory duplicated and some not. There’s no way short of going through it file by file to work this out, and although the program clearly has all this info at its silicon fingertips it won’t help.

    But it is fast, and it didn’t crash: for this, it gets to live.

    I want software that compensates for my human ineffectiveness at dealing with lots of data, not that emphasises it! Isn’t that the whole idea?



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