For years now, I've maintained that a flatbed scanner is a peripheral that should be a part of most anyone's personal computer. Given the low cost...

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For years now, I’ve maintained that a flatbed scanner is a peripheral that should be a part of most anyone’s personal computer.

Given the low cost, high-performance quality and versatility of today’s scanners, it makes a lot of sense to have one around.

Having the ability to scan in a document, book, magazine, photograph and just about anything else you can fit on the scanner’s surface will prove to be invaluable whenever you need to convert any of these physical items to digital.

Plus a big part of being online these days is having the ability to attach images and documents from physical sources to e-mails and sending them to Web sites.

A question people have frequently asked is why they need a scanner when they own a digital camera.

My answer: You wouldn’t use a scanner to snap a picture, nor would you use a digital camera to try to scan a document. They are two similar devices designed to do very different things.

New software

But now a new piece of software called Snapter Ice has emerged that seems to blur that line of distinction.

Snapter Ice (snapter.atiz.com/) converts specific types of images taken with a digital camera and produces the same kind of results as if you scanned the subject matter with a flatbed scanner. The sophistication and complexity of the computation and analysis algorithms are impressive. But the results speak for themselves.

An open book lying flat on a table requires you to position your digital camera directly over the center of the book.

Yet the print and the images on the surface of the book’s pages are not uniformly positioned because of the curvature of the page’s edge to the book’s spine.

Somehow Snapter ICE’s algorithms compensate for the distortion and produce a perfectly flat image that looks like a typewritten page. From there, Snapter ICE saves the image as a PDF document.

The same thing goes for any document you can photograph.

Snapter Ice works with photos taken with any digital camera, so if you already have one, you’re ready to go.

And Snapter Ice will create PDF files without the need to purchase Adobe’s Acrobat software. Snapter Ice will also let you create JPG, TIFF and other popular image formats if you wish.

You do have a few rules to follow when taking these images. For example, the entire document or book has to be within the frame of the photograph.

And while it’s OK to have your fingers on the side of the book holding the pages, you can’t take a skewed image of a book. It has to be taken from the book’s center. You can take a skewed photo of a document, but you can only take a picture of one page at a time.

Check Web site

The best way to learn more about Snapter Ice is to visit the product’s Web site. The program offers a free 14-day trial. After that, it remains fully functional but scanned images will have a pale watermark across the image.

Purchasing the Lite version for $20 gets rid of the watermark in Document and Card modes. $49 buys the full version with all watermarks removed. Paid versions give free upgrades to future versions for a year.

So does Snapter Ice replace a flatbed scanner? No way.

But it does offer an inexpensive alternative if you don’t yet have a scanner, and you should still buy a copy even if you do.

That way, you can use the scanner when your computer and the item you want to scan are at the same location and use Snapter Ice when they’re not. Snapter Ice is for Windows XP and Vista only.