Computer Workstation Configuration
What is the most productive computer setup for your own individual workstation? That is difficult to determine because one’s personal preferences come into play. I thought I would describe what works well for me, why it works, and issues I have confronted. My thought is that such information may give the reader some ideas for his or her own system.
My hardware includes a desktop computer with a 27-inch screen plus an additional monitor with a 20-inch screen. The dual monitor setup increases my efficiency quite a bit. Another factor contributing to this is my decision to read legal documents on the computer screen instead of reading paper documents. Most documents I receive these days arrive by e-mail in PDF format or are downloadable from a transactional web site in PDF format. If I receive a paper document, I scan it into my system using a fairly high speed scanner that scans up to 25 pages a minute for a single-sided document. If the document has printing on both sides of the paper, the scanner can actually process up to 50 pages a minute, because both sides are scanned at the same time. Those are the scanner’s listed specifications, but I don’t get those results because I generally elect to scan at a higher resolution than that used for the marketing hype of the 25 pages per minute. I usually scan at 300 dots per inch, which produces good image quality at the rate of about 12 pages per minute.
For me, this configuration makes reading and reviewing legal documents more efficient for several reasons. In good part that depends on the software I use. I use Adobe Acrobat Professional, which has a number of important features that enhance the experience of reading legal documents.
First, the software does a great job with optical character recognition (OCR). While some of the documents I receive have searchable text embedded in the document, most of the PDF files I receive merely contain an image of the words on the page, and the image is not searchable for words or strings of characters. As I will describe later, the ability to search a document is very helpful when reading legal documents. Acrobat Professional can perform the OCR function for a 100-page document in approximately five minutes, assuming that you have a computer that is not too old. To perform that function, Acrobat Professional needs to examine each character on the page and determine what it is. This works well with all documents except for those with a very poor image quality. I come across those documents rarely, and the poor quality in most cases appears to result from multiple generations of copying or faxing, or both. Without in any way changing the appearance of the document on the screen, Acrobat Professional stores the text in the background, and each word of the stored text is associated with the image of the word it is derived from on the screen. If you need to quote or otherwise use any of the words in the file, you can simply drag the mouse over the text you want to copy and then paste those words into a word processing program or any other application that permits the insertion of text.
When a document is being scanned, if a page is turned sideways or upside down in the PDF file, the software automatically rotates the page so that it is upright. Other pages that are askew in the PDF file are straightened.
Being able to search the text of a document is valuable for a couple of reasons. When reading a document, it is not uncommon to want or need to re-read an earlier portion of the document. If reading a paper version of the document, you would be able turn the pages until you find the spot you desire to read again. You might mark certain areas you expect to look at again with sticky notes or flags or paper clips with or without annotations. If you are reading on the computer screen with Acrobat Professional you can search for a word, any string of characters, or any string of words and instantly find what you are looking for. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, as you read the document, you can easily create bookmarks for any provisions that you expect might need to be reviewed again. Then, wherever you are in the document, you can click on the bookmark, and instantly go to the desired document location. Whenever I click on a bookmark, I always first quickly and simply associate my “UP TO” bookmark to my current location, so that as soon as I finish re-reading the targeted bookmarked area, I can click on my UP TO bookmark to instantly bring me back to where I was up to in reading the document. This works much faster than paging through a paper document for me, and this avoids the possibilities of sticky notes or flags becoming detached from the paper document or the pages getting out of order.
Another nice feature of Acrobat Professional is that you can open the same document in two separate windows so that you can have two separate locations of the document on the screen at the same time. That avoids the need to page back and forth between the two parts of the document you are currently focusing on. Actually, you are not limited to two windows on the same document. I have tried up to four windows with flawless performance. With my two monitors, I can comfortably view all four parts of the document at one time. Of course, at the same time you can have additional windows open containing other documents to which you may need to refer.
Sometimes, after I finish reading a document, I realize that I do not recall the document containing a particular provision that is normally part of the type of document I am reading. If that happens with a paper document, I could spend lots of time going through the document again trying to locate the missing provision. With a PDF document, I can simply search for some of the common words that would normally appear in such a provision. I will either find the provision in less than a minute or extend my searching techniques for another couple of minutes before I am satisfied that the document does not contain such a provision if I did not find it with my extended search.
Let me make it clear that the Acrobat software I use is not the free version of Acrobat Reader but the expensive version of Acrobat Professional. The current version is Acrobat XI at $449. There is also a Standard version of Acrobat that currently sells for $299 and contains many of the features of Acrobat XI. I am currently using Acrobat Pro 8 and have not upgraded because it does all that I currently need it to do.
A number of other software products perform many of the functions of Acrobat Professional. The only other products that I have used are made by Nuance. In the past I used Nuance’s OmniPage for performing OCR at a time when I thought OmniPage provided superior OCR results. Because Acrobat Professional’s OCR functionality has improved, I have found it more convenient to use a single program, Acrobat Professional, for all of my PDF needs. It may very well be that Nuance kept its lead in OCR, but at this time I don’t see the need to go beyond what is offered by Adobe, particularly because when I have had Acrobat Professional and OmniPage installed at the same time, it appeared that they interfered with each other. That was a number of years ago and may no longer be the case.
The dual monitor setup is also a significant aid in reading and analyzing documents. As mentioned above, two monitors help place multiple parts of the same document on the screen at the same time. I don’t find it necessary to do that often, but it is very helpful at times. When I read documents, I often take notes on the documents as part of my analysis of the document. I usually keep a Word document open on one of my screens for that purpose, while the document I am reading is on the other screen. This is much more efficient than constantly switching from one document to another to record notes from the document I am reading. Since I am not a fast typist, I frequently find it helpful to copy a block of text from the document I am reading and paste it in my Word document. Even if I don’t need all of the words from the block, it is often more efficient to edit that block of text than to type only the words I want in my Word document.
Sometimes, instead of using a Word document to record my notes, I use a HotDocs template that I created for that purpose. In that case, I maintain HotDocs on one screen and the document I am reading on the other screen. While I have either Word or HotDocs using the space on one screen, my 27-inch screen is large enough to comfortably keep open two separate windows from Acrobat Professional for the purposes described above. At times I have considered adding an additional monitor to add to my flexibility, but I have not seen any real need to do that yet.
In addition to recording my notes in a separate Word document or in HotDocs, sometimes I find it important to annotate the document that I am reading. Acrobat Professional makes that easy to do.
At times I receive PDF files of documents for which I have already read a prior draft. As long as the new document and the prior draft contain searchable text, which I can easily make happen by using the OCR functionality, Acrobat Professional will run a comparison of the two documents and produce a marked copy. This is important if the new draft you receive is not marked to show changes or if you want to make sure the markup furnished to you is accurate.
I have successfully used the hardware configuration I described on a Windows PC as well as on an iMac. My iMac is configured to run Mac’s OSX and Windows. I can selectively start the computer either as a Mac or a Windows PC. The Windows functionality of the iMac works very well. I tend to use the iMac with Windows rather than OSX, because I frequently use HotDocs, and there is no desktop version of HotDocs that runs on OSX. I am comfortable using both OSX and Windows, and the biggest advantage of OSX that I have found is that if a program crashes on OSX you can force it to close and it almost always closes immediately without affecting any other program. On Windows, my experience is that if I want to force a program to close, I frequently have to perform the process multiple times before it actually closes and sometimes the only way to close the program is by shutting down the computer. I am surprised that I keep having that same experience on Windows 7.
Another feature of my computer configuration is automatic backup. I am using an online backup service called Mozy Pro, which is available at a discounted rate for members of the American Bar Association. I believe that automatic on-line backup is extremely important. Backup in general, has the same urgency, because you never know when a hard drive might fail or if a file may become corrupted. But backup to an on-site hard drive or other storage device is subject to loss from casualty—perhaps the same casualty that destroys the data on the system’s primary hard drive in the first place. That is why it is essential to have a backup off-site at a location that ideally is not subject to storms that may affect your office. In addition to backing up your files off-site, Mozy Pro will also backup your files on a separate hard drive attached to your computer. In case you need to retrieve files and your on-site backup hard drive is in good condition, you can more quickly recover the files instead of downloading them from Mozy Pro’s servers.
As mentioned above, Acrobat Professional XI costs $449 as of February 26, 2013. If you also use other Adobe products such as Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Flash Professional, Dreamweaver, Premier, and a number of other applications, they are all included along with Acrobat Professional for an annual subscription price of $49.99 per month. If you don’t use the other products it makes no sense to purchase the subscription, but if you do it may be worth your while. The total cost of the individual software applications listed above is in excess of $2,000 and the sum of all of the individual software products in the package exceeds $8,000, although there are smaller groups of the listed software that can be purchased for as little as $1,299 (for six of the more than 20 titles). I was told by an Adobe representative by phone that the subscription includes both a PC and a Mac version.
I noticed that Microsoft is also offering Microsoft Office on a subscription basis under the title Office 365, Home Premium. Unfortunately, the software used under the subscription is not to be used for any commercial, nonprofit, or revenue-generating activities or by any government organization. But for home use it may be worthwhile at the annual subscription price of $99.99, particularly if you have several nonwork computers in your home. The subscription entitles you to have it installed on five PCs or Macs and the subscription includes all of the applications in Office Professional 2013.
Offering annual software subscriptions looks like the beginning of a trend that means a smaller initial cost with free updates during the subscription period, but with an obligation to renew each year if you continue to use the software. By the way, the Adobe and Microsoft subscriptions are for the full versions of the software to install on your computer and not merely streamed from the Cloud.
In case you are not aware, there is a free alternative to office software called OpenOffice, which includes word processor, spreadsheet, multimedia presentation, illustration, database, and math software. There are versions for Windows, Mac, and Linux systems. You can read about OpenOffice at its own web-site at www.openoffice.org and on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OpenOffice. I have used OpenOffice with success on a PC and a Mac, and I was able to produce text documents that are readable in Word and spreadsheets that are readable in Excel. The functionality appears very similar to Microsoft Office, but I prefer to use Microsoft Office.
Because there are a number of alternatives to Adobe products for dealing with PDF files as mentioned above, you might want to take a look at the list of PDF software available in Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_PDF_software.