Hardware Systems

The Digital Office Pro system operates with computer hardware and peripherals. A description of the primary hardware components, along with certain minimum system requirements and suggestions follows.

Computers

Digital Office Pro is compatible with Windows-based computer operating systems running Windows 95 or later versions of the operating system. Digital Office Pro is not compatible with Apple Macintosh or Linux operating systems and has not been tested for compatibility with computers running a dual operating system. 

It is recommended that Digital Office Pro not be run on computers with processors operating at less than 500 MHz with less than 128 MB of random access memory. These are minimum system requirements and, although the system will operate on machines that are minimally configured, you may find performance of the system to be unacceptably slow, particularly when dealing with larger documents or large databases. Therefore, we recommend a Pentium III (or other manufacturer's equivalent) processor operating a minimum of 600 MHz with random access memory of at least 256 MB. The system will operate even more efficiently and quickly with more powerful processors and more RAM.

Digital files are stored on your computer's hard drive. An estimated 6 GBs of storage capacity per attorney per year is sufficient. Documents will be archived and removed from the hard drive periodically, thus lessening the demand for active file storage. 20 GB is recommended as the minimum size of your primary hard drive. Drives of 40 GB or larger will provide even more digital file storage space for one or more attorneys or for particularly paper-intensive practices or cases. 

Hard drives are quite inexpensive, costing only a few dollars per gigabyte of storage space. As a result, consider getting the largest available hard drive when you purchase your computer (for solo or peer-to-peer network users) or with central servers and Network Attached Storage devices.

Monitors 

Monitors are of two types, those with cathode ray tubes (CRTs) and those with liquid crystal displays (LCDs). LCDs are the newer technology. They are generally only an inch or two in depth and take up considerably less desktop space than CRTs. However, LCD monitors are at least two or three times more expensive than CRTs. Whether you chose a CRT or a LCD, we recommend a minimum monitor size of 17 inches. However, note that a 17-inch CRT monitor measures approximately 15.5 inches from corner to corner. A 15-inch LCD monitor has approximately the same display size as the 17-inch CRT. 

A 19-inch or 21-inch CRT monitor or an 18-inch LCD monitor will significantly improve your viewing experience. A 21-inch CRT costs only a few hundred dollars more than a 17-inch CRT monitor and is well worth the investment. With a 21-inch monitor, two documents can be displayed side by side at nearly life size. When displaying a single document, it can be viewed larger than life size, reducing eyestrain and fatigue. We recommend purchasing the largest monitor that your budget and desktop real estate will permit.

Scanners

A scanner is a device used to convert paper documents into digital files. Essentially, a scanner takes a digital picture of each page of a paper document. That "picture" is an exact duplicate of the source document. Thus, the scanner does not differentiate between printed text, pictures or handwriting. If a contract produced on your word processing system and physically signed by the parties is scanned, the scanner will produce exact images of the actual paper document as it existed, including printed text and physical signatures. 

Scanners will also scan photographs, newspaper articles, handwritten notes and any other document that is subject to being copied on your copier. After the image is scanned and an image file is created, printed text in the image may be converted to a text file by means of a software process called Optical Character Recognition. 

Two different types of scanners have evolved. The function of one is to record images of photographs or other artistic images. For convenience we will refer to these as photo scanners. Photo scanners generally will record both color and black and white images and are designed to scan and process a single image at a time. Ordinarily, these scanners operate at higher scan resolutions than are needed or desirable for capturing documents. 

The function of the second type of scanner is to record images of paper documents. For convenience we will refer to these as document scanners. Document scanners are ordinarily limited to capturing black and white images at lower resolutions than typical for photo scanners. Document scanners always have an automatic document feeder ("ADF") integrated into the scanner. Document scanners were developed to process multi-page images that are typical of business documents.

Photo scanners are not compatible with the Digital Office Pro system. So-called three-in-one machines are similarly not suited for use in the law office. These machines are usually photo scanners with an automatic document feeder added as an afterthought. They are not compatible with the Digital Office Pro system.

We recommend that you invest in a good quality document scanner. Document scanners operate at a minimum of 15 pages per minute and always have an integrated automatic document feeder. The ADF will typically hold at least 50 pages. Scanners operating at speeds of 20, 40, 50 or more pages per minute will be an excellent choice in the law office environment and will speed the imaging of paper documents and the flow of paper out of your digital law office.

Backup Systems 

A significant advantage of storing your files in a Digital File Room instead of as traditional paper files is the ability to build redundancy into the system and thereby eliminate the possibility of document loss. Paper files do not offer that option, at least not without excessive cost. We recommend that your Digital File Room be backed up using at least two of several available backup options. With two backups, there will be three copies of the Digital File Room at any time and the likelihood of any document loss is therefore negligible.

In order to implement the backup strategy appropriate to your office, read that section first and then choose from the hardware systems you will need to implement the strategy you have chosen. The available hardware systems are:
  • Tape Drive. Magnetic or digital tape backup systems are a good choice for backing up the Digital File Room. These systems use a tape cartridge. In order to implement this system, you will need a tape transport or drive, which can be purchased with your computer or can be added later, either as an external or internal drive. We recommend a tape drive capacity of at least 20 GB in order to backup the entire hard drive at one time with a single tape. 
  • CD-RW. The familiar compact discs are now available in recordable format that permits the transfer of data to a CD. This system is available in so-called recordable once configuration ("CD-R") or as rewritable discs ("CD-RW"). With the record once discs, you can transfer data to the disc, but cannot erase the data. With rewritable compact discs, data can be erased and reconfigured on a compact disc, just as on your hard drive.

At the present time, write once discs are recommended for use in your law office system. The CD-R discs are considerably less expensive than the CD-RW discs. CDs are a good backup alternative. They are an inexpensive method of making permanent records of your files. The limitation on CDs at this time is that they cannot record more than approximately 650 MB of data. Therefore, if your Digital File Room contains 6 GB of data, it will take nine CDs to backup your file room with this method.
  • DVD-RW. This format is similar to CD-RW, except that the maximum data capacity of a DVD disc is approximately seven times that of the CD. Because of the significantly higher storage capacity, we recommend this technology as an excellent way to backup your Digital File Room.
  • Separate Hard Drive. An external (or second internal) hard drive can be used to backup the Digital File Room. Normally, these drives plug into the parallel or USB port of your computer. Using the USB port is preferable. Many of these drives come with backup software that permits the periodic scheduling of automated backups or snapshots of your Digital File Room. For example, this hardware can be easily configured to make a complete backup copy of the Digital File Room at noon each workday. The hardware is relatively inexpensive and the drive can be purchased in a size that will match the size of the drive containing the Digital File Room. The external hard drive is an excellent option for one of your backup systems.
  • Internet Backup. A number of providers of digital data storage are available on the Internet. With these systems, files are downloaded from the Digital File Room over the Internet and stored on a remote computer maintained by a third party. This backup solution can be completely automated, eliminating the need for a staff member to remember to change tapes. It also eliminates the need to remember to remove the tapes or other storage media to an offsite location each day. The providers of these services argue that the cost of their systems is less than having your staff perform the same functions and more reliable. We recommend that you investigate this backup option as one of your several redundant backup systems.

Laptop Computers

A laptop is an integral part of your Digital Office Pro system. The laptop will allow you to take all or parts of your Digital File Room with you when you are out of the office. With the laptop, you can also check your e-mail from a remote location, access the Internet and perform legal research when out of the office. Thus, the laptop allows you to work outside the office in approximately the same way that you would be able to work at your desk.

Minimum system recommendations for your laptop are a Pentium III processor operating at least 400 MHz and a minimum of 64 MB of RAM. The Digital Office Pro system may operate on laptops that do not meet the minimum system recommendations. However, digital document retrieval will be unsatisfactorily slow. We recommend that your laptop have a processor speed of at least 500 MHz and at least 128 MB of RAM. 

The laptop should have an internal hard drive with a capacity of at least 6 GB. A built-in CD drive is a good option, although an external CD drive will also work. An internal diskette drive is not required. Remember that the more features you add to the laptop and the larger its display, the heavier the machine will be. Machines in the 4.5 to 6.5 pound range represent an excellent compromise between weight, value and features. However, if you find yourself out of the office more frequently than not, a larger full-featured laptop will be a good investment.