OCR is an abbreviation for Optical Character Recognition, conversion of images of typed, handwritten or printed text into machine-encoded text. In other words, someone scans or takes a picture of a book or newspaper or printed piece of paper. The result is an image, typically a JPG or GIF or PNG or TIFF file. To convert that image to normal text that can be used in a word processor, an OCR conversion is required.
A newsletter reader wrote today and asked, “Do you have a suggestion for a free OCR program that doesn’t download a lot of “junk” onto your computer?” My answer is: “Don’t do that!”
Instead, use one of several available free OCR services available on the web. The advantages are: it’s free, it doesn’t require installing of software in your computer, it works on Windows, Macintosh, Linux, Chromebook, Apple iOS, Android and probably other operating systems, it doesn’t leave anything behind in your computer, and… oh yes… it’s free. Several companies offer web-based (or cloud-based) OCR software without installation on your computer. They will recognize text and characters within scanned documents, photographs and digital camera captured images.
The downside is that most of the free services are limited in some way. Some will only decode one page or a few pages. Almost all of them will display an advertisement or two. After all, they have to pay the bills somehow! However, most of them are good for the occasional requirement to convert one or a few pages. If you have an ongoing requirement for OCR services, you will probably be better off installing a top-of-the-line OCR program in your computer. One warning: the better OCR programs are not cheap!
Most of the time when I want to convert an image into editable text, I use Google Drive. Instructions may be found at https://support.google.com/drive/answer/176692?hl=en.
Mocavo is a genealogy web site (now a division of Findmypast.com) that offers OCR conversions. See http://blog.mocavo.com/2012/04/announcing-mocavos-document-ocr-publishing-platform for details.
Here are some other services that offer free OCR conversions but please be aware I have not used all of them myself so I cannot tell you how well they work:
OnlineOCR at http://www.onlineocr.net
Free Online OCR at https://www.newocr.com
FreeOCR at http://www.free-ocr.com
i2OCR at http://www.i2ocr.com
OCR Convert at http://www.ocrconvert.com
To-Text at http://www.to-text.net
Convert Image to Text at http://www.convertimagetotext.net/imagetotextconverter.php
A quick Google search will probably find more as well.
Before anyone asks: there is no computer program or service that will reliably read all hand-written documents.