Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Continuing Typewriterless

I’ve been writing this column for more than six years. I receive a number of comments from people about the columns I write, but none more than the one I wrote in 2005 about my trusty IBM Selectric typewriter.

At the time, I still felt I needed one around for the various tasks that are needed in everyday life, including addressing packages and envelopes, filling out forms and various other home tasks.

But I actually sold my typewriter at a garage sale a few years ago and have been typewriterless ever since.

At first, it was hard to go without my typewriter, but I’ve actually managed to do without it quite nicely. Two things have helped with that:

First, I purchased a label printer that hooks up to my computer. It’s a Dymo LabelWriter 400 Turbo. With it, I can print address labels, name tags and even postage stamps.

The software integrates with my contact management software, so I can print a label to a person without having to re-type their name and address. The software even looks up their ZIP code, inserts a postal bar code and reformats the address to the U.S. Postal Service specifications.

The software allows me to do a mail merge so I can print just a few — or hundreds — of labels automatically.

Where I used to print labels on my laser printer, this label printer has completely eliminated the use of both my laser printer for printing labels as well as the need for my typewriter.

Brother also makes a competing label printer, but I’ve not given it a try.

The only downside to the label printer is that it connects to my computer via a USB (Universal Serial Bus) port rather than to the network with an Ethernet port.

I did see recently that Dymo now offers a device that allows the LabelWriter to connect to the network so that all computers in my home can use the printer, but the device costs $100, so I haven’t sprung for it, yet.

Second, Adobe Acrobat’s form filling feature makes the use of my typewriter unnecessary.

What the form filling feature does is allow the user to see a form and type on the form just where you would normally handwrite or type. The rest of the form remains uneditable.

Acrobat allows forms to have not only fields where you can enter text such as your name or company, but it also allows check boxes to select items, and numeric fields, such as order forms or tax forms.

While Acrobat has had a form filling feature for a long time, most Acrobat PDF files didn’t use the feature. This is because the creator of the form has to tell Acrobat about the nature of these fields to be filled in.

The United States federal government has made most of its downloadable PDF files fillable using the Adobe Acrobat software. Most state governments have followed suit. Cities and towns I’ve informally experienced are less consistent in their adoption of fillable PDF files.

Adobe freely distributes the Acrobat Reader software. It includes the ability to fill in forms, but not to create them. To create Acrobat documents, one of the fee-based software products is needed, typically Acrobat Standard, Pro, or Pro Extended.

Creating forms using Acrobat is pretty easy, but it does require some additional work on the part of the forms creator. The amount of extra work is based on the complexity and length of the document. I’ve seen some basic “fill in the blanks” PDF documents as well as some PDF documents that perform calculations and have a lot of dynamic content.

But my point is that as Acrobat has come into its own and I have not regretted giving up my Selectric. In fact, my mother is getting ready to downsize her home and has a Selectric sitting in her office that she’s not going to keep. As fun as it would be to have, I’m going to let a historian have it for his museum.

This column initially appeared in the Wednesday 25 March 2009 issue of Westport News.

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