W hen Microsoft integrated faxing capabilities (Microsoft Fax) into its Windows operating system, many people feared the demise of stand-alone fax programs. Others predicted the popularity of e-mail would curb the use of fax machines. But this hasn't been the case: Faxing is still one of the most popular modes of transmission. With faxing, there's no worry that the attached document will be unreadable, a common occurrence when sending files via e-mail.
Although the fax software field has narrowed, it certainly hasn't disappeared. In fact, Microsoft's move has encouraged the development of more robust fax programs--giving you the ability to do everything from sending and receiving faxes to turning your computer into a full-blown communications center, complete with voice messaging and paging capabilities.
At the most basic level, faxing from your PC saves you the hassle of printing a document and taking it to a fax machine. If you're a frequent traveler and take a laptop on the road, having access to a fax program gives you the ability to receive and send high-quality faxes regardless of whether you have a printer handy. Essentially, any fax machine becomes your "printer"--just send yourself a fax to your hotel's front desk.
Other reasons for employing one of these affordable programs include broadcast faxing, which involves creating one document and sending it to dozens of individuals; and faxing via the Internet, which allows you to send long-distance faxes for the cost of connecting to your ISP. Faxing via your computer also gives you the ability to keep extensive logs of incoming and outgoing faxes, much like the way you track your e-mail messages.
Of course, to use fax software, your PC must be equipped with a fax modem, and if you have voice-oriented telephony features, you'll need a voice-capable modem. All the programs reviewed here run under Windows 95.
Cassandra Cavanah is a Los Angeles freelance writer who has reported on the computer industry for nine years.
By Popular Demand
By the time you read this, Symantec's WinFax PRO 9.0 will be on store shelves. WinFax PRO is the bestselling fax software program on the market. The program comes with TalkWorks, software that allows users to use their PC as an answering machine. TalkWorks also supports fax-on-demand, giving others the ability to dial in to your computer and request documents to be faxed back to them.
WinFax is simple to install and set up. For quick access to its features, WinFax adds an icon to the Windows toolbar for sending and receiving faxes. When you're ready to send a fax, just click on the icon, and the WinFax PRO wizard takes you step by step through the process. It lets you add recipients to your address book, compose a fax cover sheet and attach files to be sent. Before sending the fax, you're given the opportunity to view its layout. From the WinFax icon on the toolbar, you can also enable or disable the incoming fax feature.
To access the more sophisticated features, you have to actually open the WinFax program. Here you can design your own cover sheet or choose one of WinFax's existing templates.
You can also sign up for Internet faxing, which allows users to send faxes via the Net, cutting down on telephone costs and enabling you to do large-group broadcast faxing that ensures all recipients receive their faxes at the same time. Setting up the Internet faxing component was fairly simple, but using it was a different story. First of all, I couldn't determine the charges incurred from using it (though it did say I was getting a free 30-minute trial for signing up). Next, when I attempted to send a fax via the Net, the link to my personalized mail box on the fax service's Web site (http://www.netcentric.com) didn't work, so I couldn't track it. And Symantec's otherwise extensive Help section didn't offer enough details on Internet faxing for effective troubleshooting. I did, however, receive an e-mail message from the fax service within 30 minutes that answered all my questions.
The 9.0 version has two key features worth noting. First, there's a new fax-sharing feature for LANs that enables small offices to load a host copy of WinFax on a single machine that has a modem and dedicated phone line. This means you won't have to equip every machine with a modem and data line. Additionally, true road warriors should benefit from improved support for digital cellular standards, which promises to make sending and receiving faxes from mobile environments easier.
WinFax includes seamless support of Microsoft Exchange and Outlook phonebooks and lets you fairly easily import data from other address book programs.
Get The Message
As with WinFax, HotFax MessageCenter lets you not only send and receive faxes but manage other aspects of your office communications, including voice mail and paging. This program has all the same features as WinFax, including Internet faxing (a feature HotFax takes more pains to explain). I found HotFax an even easier product to use. Its interface was clean, and simple navigation made sending my first fax painless. Though HotFax lacked wizards, I found I didn't need them.
Navigating HotFax's cover sheets was less cumbersome than with WinFax. There were plenty to choose from; however, their design and style lacked a certain sophistication.
Adding records to HotFax's address book was simple, but this program lacks the more extensive support of address book programs that WinFax features. Importing is possible, but you can only import generic XBASE files, which may require some fumbling to convert your address book files to XBASE.
This program can also act as a host, letting users dial into your PC to access files or faxes. And if your modem supports voice features, HotFax will launch its Command Console for dialing and receiving voice calls. Like WinFax's TalkWorks, MessageCenter gives you a way of managing voice calls on your PC.
Can We Talk?
Communicate! Pro dubs itself "the ultimate communication solution." This program is designed for people who want all their communication needs serviced by a single source. Communicate! Pro's interface is a large graphic that looks like a telephone/answering machine; you access functions with the click of a button.
Although the other programs offer capabilities other than faxing, Communicate! Pro is the only one that has taken the spotlight off faxing and moved the focus to other communication functions, including substantial support of e-mail and Internet browsing. For the purpose of this column, we focused on the fax capabilities.
From Communicate! Pro's interface, I clicked on the "send quick fax" button and was faced with an extremely detailed screen that let me input a phone number and add it to my phone book; it then showed me the cover page in full-screen mode (something I didn't ask to see). Hitting the "send" button gave me a message indicating the success of my activities, but my modem failed to dial out. In trying to ascertain the problem, I checked out the fax log and couldn't even locate a record of the fax.
I found Communicate! Pro too feature-intensive, so much so that I couldn't dig beneath its layers to easily perform the functions I required. I wouldn't turn to Communicate! Pro if faxing was my main concern.
If you're not taking advantage of your PC's fax modem for sending and receiving faxes, you're missing out.
For general faxing, I'd recommend HotFax over WinFax due to ease-of-use factors. However, WinFax is a great choice for Microsoft Outlook or Exchange users. Communicate! Pro is more appropriate for power users who are willing to take the time to learn the program's extensive features.
New And Notable Software
- Intuit's Quicken Home & Business 99: There are plenty of enhancements in the newest version of Quicken Home & Business, including a new Accounts Payable feature and a new Statements feature for keeping track of customer invoices. Intuit has also added more ways to analyze and improve your financial situation with a new Financial Activity Center and what-if scenarios. There's also a new QuickEntry feature that lets you input transactions faster than ever. Quicken Home & Business 99 retails for $89.95. Check out http://www.intuit.com/quicken or call (800) 4-INTUIT.
- Kai's Power SHOW: This $49.95 program lets you bring all your digital images, from digital cameras, scanners, Web sites and presentation slides, into one program. The end result is a show that can be shared with friends or business associates via computer monitor, projector, printer or the Web. Call (800) 846-0111 or visit http://www.metacreations.com
- Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Deluxe: With a little foresight, you can avoid any potential problems caused by a virus. Anti-Virus Deluxe includes a full tutorial that explains what viruses are and comes with NetGuard for protecting your PC when cruising the Web and downloading files. You can also schedule regular virus scans to make sure nothing has invaded your system. Anti-Virus Deluxe costs $59.95. Call (888) 377-6566 or visit http://www.drsolomon.com