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A solution may be in sight for any government agency that has sought to expand the benefits of its existing imaging system but has balked at the high cost. Imaging is about to join the Internet. In fact, the first instances of Web-enabled imaging have already appeared, and the industry's leading vendors are working at various speeds to fulfill Web strategies for their imaging and workflow products.

By the end of the year, Wang, FileNet, IBM, ViewStar and others should allow anyone with a Web browser to search for and retrieve document images regardless of the computing platform on which they reside. For example, a worker in one department, using a Macintosh or PC, will be able to connect to the Internet and, with a browser, pull up images of documents stored on another department's UNIX-based imaging system. "The Internet solves some of the cross-platform interoperability issues of imaging," said Karen Shegda, associate managing analyst for Datapro Information Services Group.

Interoperability -- always a costly issue -- has stymied government efforts to expand document imaging beyond the core group of workers on a local area network (LAN) to workers at remote locations or to the general public. But the Web can simplify the deployment of imaging to workers or individuals who may have only an occasional need to look at documents. "Everything is easier because the data, images and application software are all on the server," explained Shegda.

Unlike client/server systems, which require a fair amount of software on the client computer that's compatible with the server software, clients in Web applications need only the universal browser -- which can be acquired for little or no cost -- to perform simple searches and retrievals of images across a variety of platforms.

Metafile, an integrated imaging and COLD (computer output to laser disk) software vendor, has a Web-enabled version of its Metaviewer software. According to Nick Sprau, Metafile's vice president for worldwide marketing, customers are latching on to the software because it eases some of the networking restrictions of existing imaging applications. Organizations can take advantage of the Internet's existing network infrastructure and lower their imaging implementation costs.

The software, known as Metaviewer WWW, consists of three components: a Web server, a common gateway interface (CGI) and the Metafile server, where the COLD and imaging applications reside. A user fills out a form on a Web page and submits a search to the Web server, which interacts with the Metafile server via CGI and returns with a list of hits. Users have the option of viewing the first page of the document or the entire contents.

FileNet plans to distribute a free plug-in that will interface with Netscape's Web browser, allowing workers to view images that reside on a standard FileNet image management server or a Watermark server. Later this year, FileNet will announce a comprehensive Internet/ intranet strategy for all their products: imaging, workflow, document management and COLD.

According to Terry Mullin, FileNet's manager of product marketing and Internet strategy development, the company plans to migrate all of its desktop products that run on LANs to the Web. "As a company, we are moving toward what Microsoft calls the 'user experience,' and plan to make all of our future tools Web-browser aware," said Mullin.

Microsoft, in its next major release of Windows, intends to develop the "user experience" so that all interaction between user and computer will take place through a super browser. Users will no longer know whether the image or application