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Shape Up! Practice Management Tips for 2010

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PRODUCT WATCH

A number of digital pen products let you capture your handwriting in electronic form. Typically with these products, you have to download the handwritten information onto your computer before you can view it on the screen. A lot of times that works fine—but what if you’re in a meeting or presentation and want to have on-the-fly handwritten annotations or drawings appear on the screen?

Situations like those call for a real-time solution. The company Canson hopes to give users just that with its PaperShow kit . -PaperShow aims to replicate the traditional flipchart in digital form by enabling users to electronically capture and project handwritten notes or drawings for interactive presentations, brainstorming sessions and the like via plug-and-play technology.

What makes PaperShow unique is that it’s the first wireless product of its kind that relays your handwriting onto a computer screen in real-time. This ability bypasses issues with other digital pen capture devices that need to be physically connected to the computer and that require specific software to be installed on the presentation computer for operation.

How the Kit Works
The PaperShow kit contains everything you should need to capture and display handwritten text and images, and mark up pictures and PowerPoint slides in the course of a meeting. It includes the battery-operated PaperShow Bluetooth digital pen, the special PaperShow USB key, and interactive paper on which you mark everything so it will appear in digital form on the screen. (It also comes with carrying accessories, a separate USB key and a spare battery.) The USB key functions as the pen’s Bluetooth receiver, serving up the PaperShow software and providing storage for files. Because you place the application software on the USB key, you can go anywhere there is a computer and plug in the USB key to run the program without the need to carry along your own computer.

The program’s installation is straightforward. You first plug the USB key into an open port on your PC to download the PaperShow software from the Internet, then you install the USB software drivers and pair them with the PaperShow digital pen. Note that there have been reports about the pen failing to pair correctly if you have other Bluetooth adapters in use on the computer, but I didn’t have that problem while using my Dell laptop’s integrated Bluetooth adapter and a Bluetooth mouse.

Once the key is inserted into an open USB port, Windows opens a selection menu where you choose PaperShow from the list of actions. You then pair the pen with the USB key so they can communicate, done by simply removing the cap of the PaperShow pen. Then you are ready to go, bearing this in mind, of course: With PaperShow (and similar voice and image capture devices), you must use the specialized paper for the software itself to work.

So then, from the main application window, you can select a new whiteboard, open an existing file or import from a PowerPoint file. When you select a new whiteboard, you have to select the size of the paper you’ll be using. The -PaperShow kit comes with a pad of A4-size paper that’s used for on-the-fly input when using the whiteboard mode and letter-size (A3) paper for printing out PowerPoints and other images.

The PaperShow pen uses technology from Anoto, which makes interactive paper that has thousands of tiny black dots printed on it in a unique pattern that allows the digital camera in the PaperShow pen to recognize its location when drawing. In other words, what you write on the interactive paper is what will be projected onto the monitor. Be aware, however, that while you can erase what’s drawn on the screen, since the PaperShow pen uses actual ink on the paper, after a certain amount of use the paper must be discarded and new sheets used—and the paper is anything but inexpensive.

In addition you control attributes such as colors, line thickness, and shapes (e.g., arrows, squares or circles) using the preprinted toolbar on the right side of the interactive paper. Selecting the drawing tools you want to use is as easy as tapping the appropriate toolbar icons with the pen. You can even add yellow sticky notes on which to write. You can also add new pages, delete pages and navigate between pages using icons in the toolbar.

When you’ve finished a PaperShow session, you can save the whiteboard contents into files, which are stored on the USB key until its 256 MB of memory is full, at which point you have to archive them to your computer. You can also export the files into Adobe PDF or PowerPoint format, as well as e-mail them from within the PaperShow application.

However, if you want to work with existing images or PowerPoint slides, you must first import them into PaperShow and then print them on the interactive paper using a color printer. Once the image (which prints out in blue) is on the paper, you can then open a PaperShow file for it and draw or comment on the image or slide. These files can also be saved for further changes as well as exported to PowerPoint or Adobe PDF. And this is where some of my excitement for this product wore off: Unless you’re able to import and print off your images or slides in advance of a presentation, the program’s usefulness for real-time purposes is limited to the application’s whiteboard capabilities only.

And there are other drawbacks. Calibrating the pen to the actual image can be affected if the paper isn’t properly aligned in a printer’s paper tray or if a newer version of the file is re-imported into PaperShow. Plus, there’s the paper’s expensiveness—a 48-page A4-size pad is $12.99, while a 200-sheet package of letter size is $19.99. As for the price of the PaperShow kit itself, at $199 MSRP, it is not inexpensive, although you can find it for under $170 on the Internet.

Overall, PaperShow strikes me as a niche product in the legal marketplace when you weigh the costs and limitations. Based on its actual capabilities and requirements, however, there are legal audience members that can benefit from its portability and feature set.

Scorecard With a maximum possible score of 20, here is how I rate it:

Ease of Use: 4
Quality of Materials: 4
Feature Set: 4
Value for Cost: 3
Total Score: 15

Nerino J. Petro, Jr. , is a legal technologist and the Practice Management Advisor for the State Bar of Wisconsin. A former practicing attorney, he blogs on legal technology and practice management issues at www.compujurist.com.

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