And Never the TWAIN Shall Meet?

What is TWAIN?

If you’re a digital camera enthusiast, or otherwise possess an interest, in or need of, image device technology (such as scanners) the more likely than not you’ve run into the word TWAIN. What’s more is that you might be one of the many people who don’t actually know what this word means, but given its common appearance in reference to such devices you probably assume that it’s important.

And that would make you right.

TWAIN is the standard interface, and the interface standard, for Macintosh and Windows that provides communication between hardware devices (such as digital cameras) and image processing software. Before the TWAIN software protocol was invented in 1991 and released in 1992, all image acquisition devices required their own proprietary software. Back in those days of technological choppiness transferring an image from one application to another meant saving it on your hard drive, opening your desired application, and opening your image there. TWAIN technology made the process much easier, allowing users to open an image in any TWAIN-compliant image processing software without saving it to the hard drive first.

Some image processing software that is TWAIN-compliant includes:

  • Multiple operating system platforms including Windows, Mac OS, and Linux
  • ICC Color profiles
  • Production, high-speed scanning
  • Digital cameras

Image processing devices that are not TWAIN-compliant typically means refers to technologies with proprietary software.

Meaning of the Word “TWAIN”

Many have quipped and mused that TWAIN is an acronym standing for “Technology Without An Interesting Name,” but the TWAIN Working Group cites Rudyard Kipling’s poem “the Ballad of East and West,” a dramatic reference to the first line of Kipling’s poem declaring “OH, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.” The "East" and "West" refers to the (disproven) belief that some hardware devices and software programs were doomed to incompatibility. The word “twain” was adopted and capitalized to make it more distinct and has become the standard bridge between image device software and hardware devices, such as ID card printers, creating a veritable meeting place for the twain.

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