Google sponsors the development of an open-source OCR software at the IUPR research group. "OCRopus is a state-of-the-art document analysis and OCR system, featuring pluggable layout analysis, pluggable character recognition, statistical natural language modeling, and multi-lingual capabilities."
"The goal of the project is to advance the state of the art in optical character recognition and related technologies, and to deliver a high quality OCR system suitable for document conversions, electronic libraries, vision impaired users, historical document analysis, and general desktop use," explains Thomas Breuel, who leads the project.
The software is partly based on Tesseract, the best open source OCR engine available for now. While the project is expected to be released at the end of next year and will be used for Google's book scanning project, the team has some interesting applications in mind:
* a web service interface
* PDF, camera, and screen OCR
* integration with desktop search tools: Beagle, Spotlight, Google Desktop
The most popular OCR software are ABBYY FineReader, Omnipage, Readiris and Presto OCR, but they're pretty expensive (starting at $100). A decent solution to perform OCR on a document is Microsoft Office Document Imaging, included in Microsoft Office XP/2007. Microsoft Office OneNote 2007 also lets you OCR imported images. A free online alternative is Scanr, a site that lets you digitize documents by sending a mobile phone photo by email.