Several years ago I had a convertible tablet PC and I *loved* it. The ability to sit in a meeting and take notes and have them instantly digitized into OneNote was tremendous. As the computer horsepower needs of my professional life increased with SharePoint, I found that my poor little tablet just couldn’t keep up – mostly on the RAM front. It maxed out at 4 GB of RAM and I needed more. I reluctantly gave up on the tablet and moved to a “regular” laptop with sufficient oomph.
I’ve always missed my tablet, though.
Fast forward to some work I was doing for a client at the tail end of last year investigating alternative inputs for Information Workers to use to load content into SharePoint. I came across a product called Capturx from a company called Adapx. They have a whole range of products but the two that I’ll cover here work with OneNote and SharePoint.
Capturx for OneNote
I love this app. It’s simple, as it should be, unobtrusive (also as it should be) and it just plain works. I take notes in a notebook using a special pen (more on this in a minute) and when I dock the pen back into its charger, the software takes over and automagically imports my notes into OneNote. The paper in the notebook is special, too. Here’s what it looks like:
It doesn’t come across in the picture too well, but it’s got a very tiny little series of dots on the page. This is how the handwriting gets digitized. The dots on the page allow the pen to record where you are writing on the page. It then hands that information over to the Pen Manager software installed on my laptop which does the work of getting it into OneNote. I don’t need to do anything but dock the pen, which I do to charge it anyway. I have the software configured to dump the new pages into a OneNote notebook called Imported Pages and then I periodically file them into my regular OneNote notebooks. I now have fully digitized notes that are searchable and everything else that OneNote provides.
As I said, the paper has a grid of tiny, unobtrusive dots. This pattern is a proprietary pattern from a company called Anoto, but it is used by most major digital pens on the market today. The paper is a little pricier than a regular notebook but not too bad. I also have the option of printing my own sheets using the Capturx software but I don’t have a PostScript printer handy so this doesn’t work for me right now. Honestly, I’m not convinced that printing my own pages is much cheaper or any easier than just buying notepads online.
As I said, the pen is special. As near as I can tell it is a generic Anoto-compliant pen marketed by Adapx. The pen itself is a little bigger than I’m used to but not too bad. It writes pretty well. I had an initial problem with the digitized copy of my notes being gibberish, as seen here:
A quick conversation with the Adapx technical support group uncovered the problem. During shipping, the ink cartridge in the pen had become too tightly seated inside the pen chamber and it wasn’t recognizing when I had lifted the pen from the paper. A 10-second fix and this was resolved and hasn’t been a problem in the past 3+ months of use.
Capturx for SharePoint
The OneNote software is great for regular note taking, but honestly its not groundbreaking. Don’t get me wrong, it works great and I use it all the time, but its not really anything that new and there’s other software out there that does the same thing.
The SharePoint integration, though? That’s groundbreaking.
Let’s face it. There are times when lugging around a laptop, even a little netbook, isn’t suitable and trying to enter data on a smartphone isn’t the right solution either. Sometimes paper is just the right solution – especially when what you’re trying to do is fill out a form. I don’t know about you, but I find it pretty annoying when I’m sitting somewhere (doctor’s office, etc) waiting for someone to fill in a form on their computer. It invariably takes longer than a comparable paper form would. I *completely* understand the desired end result – a digital copy of the form instead of a paper copy, but the approach of a digital form just doesn’t work all the time.
Enter the Capturx for SharePoint solution:
1. Fill in a regular paper form (OK, it has the little dots on the page, but its still a paper form that’s MUCH easier to fill in than a digital form)
2. Dock the pen in the charger (or even just send it via Bluetooth to my phone and on to SharePoint from there)
3. Go have a beer, knowing that an electronic copy of the form I just filled out is already safe and sound in my SharePoint environment.
The nifty part is that not only is the form data digitized and available electronically, but the original handwritten version is also available via a custom Silverlight form that Capturx provides. Here’s some pictures to help you visualize this:
The original hand-completed form (this is a sample form Adapx provided to me):
The electronic copy in SharePoint:
The original handwritten ink notes are available via a slider control in the Silverlight. I can either see all-converted as shown above, all original ink:
or some degree in between, all by simply adjusting the slider control in the Silverlight form:
Now if there’s some concern about a discrepancy in the conversion from handwritten notes to text, I can look at the original ink. Outstanding.
The sample form I’m using here is one provided by Adapx but you can design your own forms and have them integrate into SharePoint. For situations where paper is just the right answer, this is a great solution.
I mentioned Adapx customer support above but I’d like to call it out here. I had two occasions to deal with their support department and in each case they were excellent. The first was the pen issue I mentioned above (which technically isn’t “their” problem as they don’t make the pen, but they resolved it quickly and easily for me anyway). The second was an issue that prevented me from logging into their test environment and was caused by a problem with my password management software – again, not “their” problem, but they took care of it anyway. Each person that I dealt with was courteous, professional and knowledgeable. All in all it was a good experience.
In the interest of full disclosure, I will mention that I received both a pen and licensed copies of their software from Adapx. Anyone who knows me, though, will tell you that I’m not so easily for sale. If I didn’t like something, or if something didn’t work, I’d say so, or else just never post a review (I was raised on “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all…” – thanks, Mom). There are a few quirks about the software that took some getting used to, including a problem with the Pen Manager when viewed at what I suppose are “non-standard” resolutions, but nothing major, and certainly nothing that gets in the way of using the products.
All in all, a great set of solutions from Adapx – for OneNote and SharePoint. If you have a need for either of these, I strongly recommend that you check out Capturx.
By the way. My screenshots above really don’t do the SharePoint integration justice. If you’re interested in this, I recommend you view their video here: http://www.adapx.com/resources/videos/capturx-sharepoint-services.