What is TWAIN?

photo of John Michael Pierobon By: John Michael Pierobon

TWAIN is an image capture application programming interface (API) standard for the Microsoft Windows and Apple Macintosh operating systems. TWAIN is typically used as an interface between image processing software and a scanner or digital camera.

The term TWAIN has nothing to do with Mark Twain or Shania Twain. It comes from Rudyard Kipling's "The Ballad of East and West" where he writes "and never the twain shall meet". This reflected the difficulty, that existed at the time, of connecting scanners with personal computers.

TWAIN was made to be all uppercase so it would be more distinctive. However, this led people who did not know what TWAIN was about to think it was an acronym, and then to a contest to come up with an explanation. Although no winner was selected, a very popular entry was "Technology Without An Interesting Name".

In the early days of desktop publishing, most publications contained only text and simple black and white line drawings that were printed on black and white laser printers. But that was not acceptable for long because the demand for inserting color images in publications was very strong.

Unfortunately, image acquisition remained a very difficult process. To acquire and place an image in a publication, one had to leave the application one was working in, open a hardware driver, set the device options, acquire the image, save it to disk, close the hardware driver, return to the application, then locate and read in the image file from disk. The process was tedious and time-consuming. No wonder it seemed that "never the twain shall meet".

Hardware and software developers began developing their own image acquisition interfaces. This was a step in the right direction, but having a large numbers of proprietary interfaces was not the best solution because software developers had to write a driver for each different device they needed to support and hardware manufacturers had to write a different driver for each software application. There was no interoperability between the computers and image aquisition devices.

The TWAIN standard was first released in 1992. Since then it has been possible to connect virtually any scanner to any PC or Mac because the device drivers are able to communicate using a compatible protocol. All of the major image processing companies adhere to the TWAIN standard including Adobe, Kodak, and Xerox.

Standards like TWAIN, V.90 and others make interoperability possible, which is crucial to the Internet.

John Michael Pierobon is an Internet consultant based in Fort Lauderdale.
John Michael may be reached by sending electronic mail to pierobon@pierobon.org

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