Dyce & Sons Ltd.

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Barcode X & Phoenix Ii Barcode Reader

Tuesday 4th March, 2003

There are some sore points when it comes to hardware under OS X: after a year, printers are still without drivers, still scanners that only work with (albeit excellent) 3rd party drivers, and web cam’s that sometimes work and sometimes don’t. So it’s a refreshing change to come across an input device that really is plug & play. The Phoenix II Barcode Reader from Peninsula is an USB-based CCD reader that just works. Plug it into a USB port, point it at a barcode, and press fire: the barcode is read with a beep, and wherever your text cursor happened to be, the code is typed in for you.

Despite this, the Reader does come with a manual. A quick flick however reveals that the manual isn’t just for you to read. It contains instructions, and the necessary barcodes, that allow you to program the reader just by scanning codes in from the manual. You can program the reader to add prefix and suffixes, and to manipulate the codes that are read prior to them being sent to your Mac. For every day use, being able to chop out every second character from a scanned code may seem like overkill, but being able to suffix a code with a tab, return, or enter character means that you can have the act of scanning a code trigger a search or create a new record in the application your using it with.

To help you create such a solution, Peninsula also produces a variety of tools for creating barcodes. As well as a full-blown application for producing Barcodes as EPS files, useful for packaging designers, they also have tools for producing barcodes in databases. Barcode for FileMaker has been around for a while now, but has been updated to run under X. And in addition, Peninsula now has a version for 4D (and if you’re a Windows user ActiveX).

The FileMaker version comes as a standard ‘Fat’ Plug-in, which you install in your FileMaker extensions folder. In addition, there are two font files that also need to be installed in the System Folder (that is the MacHD/Library/Fonts/ folder). Once installed, you can test your newfound powers via a set of demo files supplied. Since Barcode for FileMaker works with versions 4 through 6 of FileMaker, there are of course two sets of demo files. As you’d expect, the plug-in adds a new set of external calculations. Creating a barcode requires two fields - a field for the raw number, and calculation field for the output. The output field needs to be formatted with the newly installed font, and have is line-height set manually, so all in all it should take about two minutes to add a barcode calculation to an existing file. The plug-in supports 18 different barcode types, via 18 different functions - specifically: Codabar, CodabarDYNIX, Code128, Code39, Code93, EAN128, EAN13, EAN8, ISBN, ISMN, ISSN, ITF, ITFNoCheck, KIX, Plessey, Postnet, Royal Mail, and UPCA.

The 4D version is also a plug-in & font combo, although both a Carbon and non-Carbon version of the 4D plug-in are supplied. Unlike FileMaker extensions, your 4D extension is actually best kept in a Mac4DX folder alongside your solution files. Once installed, the plug-in adds a new set of commands to the 4D command set, mirroring the 18 barcode formats available. Again, you can implement a barcode using just two fields - a source field and the result field - although since 4D has no calculation fields, you’ll need to write a small piece of code (actually a simple assignment) that needs to be triggered whenever you tab out of the source field.

Both plug-ins come with straightforward, single A4 instruction sheets, and the demo files supplied make the process of adding a new barcode field to an existing set of records a snap. As well as letting you select the barcode type, both plug-ins accept the same parameter list: you can set the size of the barcode, as well as whether or not you wish to see human-readable characters below the barcode, and whether or not you need to reduce the size of the bars themselves to account for ink-spread (bar width reduction). One word of caution however: 4D does not allow the same amount of typographic control over its fields as FileMaker. Unlike FileMaker, 4D tries to be helpful, and won’t allow you to set the line-height of a field. This means that, although the barcodes produced will be readable by a barcode reader, they may have white-horizontal bars along the length of the barcode. To prove the point, in both applications, it’s possible to read a generated barcode off an LCD screen with the Phoenix II Barcode Reader.

Peninsula offer both plug-ins in two appropriately priced versions - capable of producing two codes of your choice, or of producing all the codes. There are also bundle deals of plug-in & barcode reader. If you need to work with barcodes, either scanning or printing, then the Peninsula products offer a robust, easy to use solution that should be top of your shopping list.

Get Further Info

Phoenix II Barcode Reader

Mice 4.5 Pros Easy to use, robust, programmable Cons None Price £89 Requires USB

Barcode for FileMaker Pro

Mice 4.5 Pros Easy to use, can handle full range of Barcodes. Cons None Price 2 codes, single user £99; All codes, single user £265; 2 codes bundle with Phoenix II £149; All codes, bundle with Phoenix II £315 Requires FileMaker Pro 4+

Barcode for 4D

Mice 4 Pros Easy to use, can handle full range of Barcodes, only current 4D solution. Cons 4D text handling means some horizontal white bars Price 2 codes, single user £99; All codes, single user £265; 2 codes bundle with Phoenix II £149; All codes, bundle with Phoenix II £315 Requires 4D 6.8 Maker Peninsula Group