Where the Internet meets the fax machine


Quote of the week:
When we met [the actual HP LaserJet engineers] they didn't turn out to be the pocket-protector, squinty-eyed nerds everyone thinks they are."
-- the ad agency creative director behind HP's latest printer ads that carry the slogan: "Built by engineers, used by normal people", quoted in Friday's New York Times.

Good thing that this engineer (Stanford, CroMem if you must know) has a thick skin. Happy New Years', everyone. I trust your celebrations fared better than the Hacienda hotel (YABULVH).

One of the areas I think will see lots of action in this new year will be the intersection of Internet and fax. Why? A combination of mature products, fax saturation and proliferation at homes, and remote on-demand printing will make for some compelling reasons. Just about every office now has a fax machine, and many people have them at home or have PCs with fax modems. (Indeed, you can't buy a new PC without a fax modem these days, and fax support comes included with current versions of both Windows and Mac operating systems.)

This notion of remote on-demand printing bears some explanation: for many years, I have used fax machines in my hotel as remote printers. When I need to get a hard copy of my next day's meeting agenda printed, I merely fax it from the PC in my room downstairs to the hotel's fax machine. It takes a few minutes and I've got my printout. And for more involved print jobs, there is always Kinkos.

On a recent trip, I found my Windows laptop fax-challenged. Try as I might, I couldn't get my fax software to work. After wasting about half a hour, I realized that I had at my disposal the solution: using FaxSav's Internet email-to-fax gateway.

FaxSav is one of a growing number of methods to send email to a fax number. All the text in the email message gets sent to 1999-5551212@faxsav.com, where the first part is the fax phone number of your choice. At the end of your message, you place a "stamp" code to indicate you have paid FaxSav in advance for the privilege.

It costs less than a buck to send a few pages, not counting the obscene phone charges that some hotels tack on for local calls or received faxes. (In my case, I was lucky: all I got dinged for was a 75 cent local call to the local MSN number, which I use as my Internet provider when I travel.) You open an account with FaxSav and they bill you monthly for the faxes you use, with the first ten faxes free.

There is another product that I use with some frequency, called JFax. This works in the other direction: you are assigned a particular phone number as your permanent voice-mailbox and fax number. Your correspondents merely send faxes or leave voice messages to this number. Any faxes are converted to PCX files and attached as email messages to your ordinary Internet email box. And the fees are reasonable: $12.50 a month with up to 100 faxes or pages.

Why would you want such a service? Let's say you are travelling and don't trust the hotel or aren't comfortable with the document being faxed to you lying about for anyone to see. Now your faxes reach you directly, without any human intervention. The attachments take a bit of time to download over 28.8 modems (each page is about 50 kilobytes), but that is a small price to pay. When you receive the fax, you can view them in a special viewer provider by JFax, or any graphics program.

There are other developments along the fax front worth noting: Symantec's latest version of WinFax allows for real-time tracking of faxes across the Internet, using Netcentric's Internet fax gear that places fax gateways at an Internet Service Provider's points of presence. This can cut down on the cost of long distance or international phone calls, commercializing something that Carl Malamud and Marshall Rose started many years with "An experiment in remote printing", sending faxes for free across the Internet. You can check the current status of their project at their site. And Kevin Savetz has an extensive listing of other fax/Internet services, both free and fee-based.

Cluefull ISPs are beginning to offer more than just a piece of web server real estate to attract businesses, and fax services makes a great deal of sense to me: the cost of the outbound phone calls is minimal compared to the perceived PR value of the service. PSI is one of the first to implement this service, and there will be others.

Sitekeeping and self promotions dep't

A white paper I wrote involving extensive first-hand research comparing Novell's GroupWise and Microsoft's Exchange and Outlook is now available at Novell's web site. Novell sponsored this project and GroupWise comes out favorably in the comparison.

Oh, you probably are wondering what's YABULVH? Yet Another Blown Up Las Vegas Hotel: the third in less than a year to turn (mostly) into dust.

David Strom
+1 (516) 944-3407
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entire contents copyright 1996 by David Strom, Inc.