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A New Scanner with XSANE and Kooka

By Edgar Howell


Long before my old copier (a multifunction unit) died, I was looking for a long-term, non-combo solution. For quite a while I have wanted a flatbed scanner to enable copying not only something from the revenuers for our accountant but also the occasional page from a book or magazine without having to destroy the publication first, so I really wanted a single-function device.

I also did not want another something requiring ink or toner or whatever. Besides, a satisfactory network printer was available. All that was really needed was a source of input, i.e. a scanner.

After much researching of product reviews and a bit of ping-pong with http://SANE-project.org, I settled on something with which I am quite happy.

The Scanner

For what it is worth, my choice was a Canon LiDe 20 which cost €55 (about US$70 last summer) from Amazon - no shipping charges, delivery in about 10 days. The LiDe 30 is supposed to produce slightly better quality than the LiDe 20, but not in proportion to the difference in price.

This is not heavy-duty hardware, and it is not intended to be out for lots of use every day. Instead it has a foot that lets it be stored upright out of the way on the floor next to the PC when not in use. It connects to the PC through USB connection when in use. It seems to be ideal at home or in a small office.

But the hardware isn't as important as the software and the process of obtaining and using it. And thanks to the help of the folks at SANE-project.org, selecting hardware was almost a trivial exercise and using it equally easy. They have an incredible amount of information on the performance of various scanners under GNU/Linux. I did glance at the literature that came with the hardware but none of the information or software provided by the manufacturer was needed.

Software Choices

In place of the manufacturer's software, I installed XSANE (the graphical front-end for SANE). Since SuSE had Kooka (the KDE equivalent of XSANE), I installed that as well. Because much of my research had been at the SANE project, I planned on using XSANE, but then decided "why not Kooka?"

Usually GUI-based programs are flexible, have lots of choices and can be tweaked on-the-fly as needed. They don't necessarily work well with repetitive, run-of-the-mill situations, however. What I really wanted was exactly that: a quick copy off to the network printer. So, OK, it isn't yet apparent how these guys can help, but let's check them out.

As it turns out, for me at least, Kooka has one advantage: it can print without having to first save a file, then start some other program to do the actual printing. That makes it simple to use it with the scanner and network printer as an alternative to a single-purpose copier.

Running the Programs

When started, both ask for confirmation of the device to use. But Kooka starts a single window, subdivided into 3 sections for a list of recent scans, settings, and preview/current scan, while XSANE starts 4 separate windows (there are more available) providing preview and the like. Since I am a keyboard aficionado from the days of the typewriter and not a mouse-user at all, I prefer Kooka's behavior - XSANE turns Alt-TAB (tabbing among windows on the current desktop) into a bit of a farce.

Both allow selecting either color, black-and-white, or grayscale. They also have buttons for the usual manipulations to rotate or mirror and the like. And they each show you the results of scanning as well as offering a preview scan, again Kooka within a section inside the window, XSANE starting another window for this.

To me it seems pretty clear that printing was never really high priority in either software package, at least not in the sense of using a scanner as part of a replacement for a copier. Kooka has a print button, and XSANE allows access to Gimp with which one can print (at least in theory; this is something I haven't yet pursued).

Kooka also turns about 2/3 of a printed page into almost 14MB for the postscript printer. Patience... The quality isn't bad, though. To be fair, the quality on the CRT is far better than on the printer, not a photo-quality device.

Since I am very new to the scanning game, I don't yet appreciate or even understand much of the available functionality, but there is lots more!


When all is said and done, I am extremely impressed with what SANE, the two GUI interfaces, and the hardware accomplish. Super quality on a CRT, ideal for sending to someone as an attachment to an e-mail -- although I do need to play around with formats to find something less than 1MB for my analog modem.

Recently a scan of less than one printed page from a newspaper produced a JPEG of less than 150K, quite acceptable for forwarding as an attachment. This wasn't even on my original wish-list!

As far as the occasional "quick copy" is concerned there is a trade-off. It requires some time to move the scanner to a free area somewhere and attach it to a USB port. And then to start one of the GUIs. But copying has never been a frequent requirement in this SOHO and I have regained a bit of desk space.

This is clearly not the way to go for everybody, especially not if you are short on space, such as in student housing or a small apartment. It is ideal for a small office without continual need for copying. In any case, do check out SANE before you look for scanners or copiers.


Use of scanners or copiers involves risk of violation of copyright. To my knowledge in some jurisdictions there is the concept of "fair use" which includes quotes of ill-defined length. When I copy something it is either (1) for my own personal temporary use because I don't want to risk loss of or damage to the original or (2) to forward to a friend along with attribution, which I consider not only "fair use" but advertisement for the source. I am not a lawyer, so use your own judgment.


[BIO] Edgar is a consultant in the Cologne/Bonn area in Germany. His day job involves helping a customer with payroll, maintaining ancient IBM Assembler programs, some occasional COBOL, and otherwise using QMF, PL/1 and DB/2 under MVS.

(Note: mail that does not contain "linuxgazette" in the subject will be rejected.)

Copyright © 2005, Edgar Howell. Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 121 of Linux Gazette, December 2005

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