Can it be true: is this really a piece of scanning software that can recognise your scanner first time? On Linux? Read on for our verdict on this commercial scanning program that provides an impressive amount of control over the picture-grabbing process...
You would think that the basic rights of a human being would include getting their scanner to work properly on Linux, but alas, the world is not with you. Since specific kernel modules were thrown out before the 2.6 kernel series started, pretty much every instance of Linux now running uses the libusb driver to enable scanner support.
Scanning software has to scan the USB port, pick up devices and then (usually) offload the actual driver interface to firmware that may or may not be for your specific model. Although Sane (the main component of open source scanning software) does a commendable job of getting things to work, a huge number of scanners out in Linuxland still don't work fully, or at all.
VueScan is proprietary software that has been in development since 1997. Its aim is simple: to be the most complete scanning software you could ever want.
The program is supplied as a pre-built binary, targeted at Ubuntu and Red Hat 9. It should be possible to get it working on other distros (we tested using Fedora), but these are the supported platforms if you have any problems. Because it's fairly light in terms of dependencies, you should be able to get it to run on practically anything – and that includes the scanning hardware it supports.
VueScan's interface let's you switch between advanced and simple modes using the 'Guide me' button at the bottom.
We tested using an Epson 3170 Photo scanner. This may theoretically be supported by Linux, but several months of fiddling with Sane had failed to get it doing more than emitting a few whines. VueScan detected it first time and was scanning happily two minutes later. There is a huge list of supported scanners on the website but bear in mind that the ones that are listed as requiring CyberView X won't work on Linux.
So, one of the reasons for using VueScan might just be to get no-hassle support for your hardware, but there's more. The amount of control over the scanning process this software gives you is simply mind-boggling. There are so many options that they're hidden by default, lest they confuse. In fact, this is a great help for everyone, because sometimes you just want to do a bunch of quick scans or copy a document without fiddling with every setting.
Rest assured though, that for serious scanning, the options you want are there. VueScan supports ICE (a kind of dust-off for scanners) if your scanner does, has colour management and will autogenerate IT8 colour targets for you.
For transparency scanning, there are a few extra neat tricks, but the best is the exposure lock feature. Ingeniously, if you select a tiny area of the film leader, the software can adjust and set the exposure for the entire film, and in the case of colour negatives, also correct the colour. There's good OCR too.
Not everything is excellent. Sequential scanning takes a bit of fiddling. If you're scanning strips of film for instance, it takes a while to set up the offsets and gaps. Also, although descreening is a difficult operation, there are packages (admittedly for Mac and Windows) that do a better job.
Finally, it may go against your firmly held beliefs to pay for software, but this is a great deal. The Pro licence entitles users to free VueScan upgrades forever. It's probably the only scanning software you will ever need.
Our verdict: There simply isn't anything to compare with it on Linux, or possibly any other platform you may choose. 9/10
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