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Mighty Machines

Combining several features in one package, desktop multifunction machines do it all.

If your desk is buried under files and papers because your fax machine, printer, scanner and copier take up most of the space in your office, it's time to consider buying one electronic helper that can do the job of four, five or six.

Multifunction machines (MFMs) combine several essential tools in a single unit, measuring an average of 18 inches wide, 18 inches deep and 12 inches tall. Most MFMs copy, scan, fax, print and provide electronic filing cabinets.

Initially built with laser printers, which kept prices high, MFMs have begun to use less expensive inkjet print technology, bringing them within the budget of small-business owners.

Additional jobs MFMs can perform include remote fax storage and retrieval, multitasking, autodialing, fax broadcasting and telephony. Features on some models include distinctive ringing, battery backup, junk-fax rejection, reduction/enlargement, collation, two-sided printing and document feeders that handle up to 99 sheets of paper. The newest high-end MFMs can even store voice-mail messages if the unit is busy with another function.

The laBODY MFM features are PC faxing, printing and scanning, which work in conjunction with your PC and require Microsoft Windows.

PC faxing uses a PC interface device to transmit faxes directly from your computer, without having to print documents out first and feed them manually into a fax machine. You can also store received faxes in your computer and keep them only long enough to read, instead of printing them out and wasting paper. Additional optional memory cards can increase the number of pages your fax can store. Make sure the necessary software is compatible with your computer program.

Scanning allows you to copy text, graphics, logos or line art from paper into your computer. However, the scanned text cannot be edited--it must be retyped if you want to change it.

More convenient is PC scanning, which allows users to scan both graphics and text into the computer, then edit the text directly without recreating it.

An MFM with dual-fax capabilities works as a plain-paper fax, sending and receiving documents in the usual manner by feeding documents into the machine. It can also send PC faxes directly from the computer to the receiver's PC fax or fax machine, and to a local area network (LAN) to which several computers are connected. Sending to a LAN allows several recipients to view a document at the same time from their individual workstations. The software for this feature is usually optional.

Another innovation is a basic "hub" MFM unit to which you can add printing, copying and scanning options as needed. On many MFMs, these additional functions require nothing more than connecting them to your PC via software, an interface (a small device that plugs into the back of your computer), or a PCMCIA card.

Most MFMs save you money by using the same toner and drum units to perform all functions. If your utility bill is getting out of hand, you'll probably find you use less power with a single MFM than with separate printers, copiers, scanners and fax machines.

So what are the drawbacks? The vast majority of MFMs print only in black and white--a disadvantage for business owners who want to produce their own full-color fliers, brochures and ads. If you need crisp, clear copies, check the print quality carefully; some machines offer "convenience" copying only. Finally, ask the dealer about rapid-response repair time. If the MFM crashes, will your entire office be paralyzed?

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This article was originally published in the December 1996 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Mighty Machines.

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