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Article #22 (29 is last): Newsgroups: freenet.sci.comp.atari.product.16-32bit.reviews From: JJL101@PSUVM.BITNET Subject: Straight Fax/Telecommunications/Commercial Posted-By: xx004 (aa400 - John J. Lehett) Edited-By: xx004 (aa400 - John J. Lehett) Date: Sat Jul 18 14:15:36 1992 Take from: Atari Explorer Online (#9205) -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= | | | STRAIGHT FAX | | | Atari Explorer Review | | | ---------------------------------------------------------------- Requirements: Any ST, STe, or TT computer with 1 MB or more RAM. Class 2 Faxmodem (receive and transmit) or SendFAX modem (send only). Summary: Powerful and well-designed send/receive fax software package. Manufacturer: Joppa Software Development, P.O. Box 214, Dallastown, PA 17313-0214 (717) 428-3231 Price: $89.95 Let me admit my bias: I think fax is pretty much an all-around stone drag. Fax machines cost too much, waste paper, and produce substandard output that can't be read directly by machines. Unfortunately, the Luddite majority has been led to believe that fax is a miracle of information science, and has embraced the standard with bleating, sheeplike enthusiasm. The resulting trend leaves us technically- literate types with no choice but to conform -- admitting that the fax standard exists, and using it when there's no reasonable alternative. The real miracle of fax, of course, is that people will pay upwards of six bills for the equivalent of a cheap auto-dial telephone, a handful of stock chips, and a low-res thermal printer. Luckily, however, there's now an alternative. Just because we're forced to use fax from time to time doesn't mean we have to put up with its unwieldy, redundant, underpowered, and overpriced machinery. Combined with one of the new high-speed faxmodems, Joppa's inexpensive STraight FAX software turns your Atari ST or TT into a versatile facsimile workstation, as powerful as the best stand-alone, plain-paper fax machines on the market. The Basics STraight FAX works by coordinating system resources -- faxmodem, printer, and hand scanner -- to substitute for the components of a fax machine. But by dissociating these components, it achieves efficiencies a stand-alone fax can't match. Unlike a regular fax, which accepts only physical documents, STraight FAX can take input in file form -- transparently converting ASCII text (from word processors, spreadsheets, databases, etc.), .IMG, and Degas files to its own "fax" format, prior to transmission. This approach saves time and paper, eliminates feed errors, and scotches any physical limitation on feed capacity. Perhaps even more important, converted documents are free of the spurious data, shadowing, and other problems introduced when physical pages are scanned into a standard fax, making for far cleaner output at the destination. To broaden the range of applications that can provide input to STraight FAX, Joppa has created "printer drivers" for Calamus (1.9 and SL), PageStream (1.8 and 2.1), and GDOS that let these programs produce fax files directly. Multiple-page transmissions can be assembled from up to 33 files in any of the supported formats (ASCII, .IMG, Degas .PI3, and "fax" (.J01 to .J99 extenders)); and the file-conversion routines can be operated manually to convert files to fax format for later sending. This capability is leveraged by sophisticated features permitting deferred document transmission. Faxing hardcopy requires a hand-scanner (MiGraph, Golden Image, etc.), plus Dr. Bobware's ScanLite desk accessory. With ScanLite present, STraight FAX controls your scanner directly, using ScanLite to combine the narrow "strips" produced by each pass into a single, seamless image. The image can then be reviewed, cropped, and massaged in one of STraight FAX's four "view windows," before saving as an .IMG file for transmission. While this is admittedly somewhat more laborious than simply feeding hardcopy to a fax machine, there are real advantages to this approach. Not least of these is the fact that scanned documents can be "touched up" (e.g., algorithmically smoothed, contrast-corrected, etc.) prior to transmission, making for clearer output at the destination end. As STraight FAX receives a document, it outputs a series of page-files in its own "fax" format -- optionally displaying these in a view window as pages are received. Once transmission is complete, fax files may be printed (using GDOS), reviewed directly in a view window, or converted to .IMG format for various purposes, including import to graphics, DTP, or perhaps even OCR software. (Now there's irony for you: use all this sophisticated tech to receive a fax, process it through MiGraph OCR, and end up with the same ASCII text file you could have downloaded directly if the ruminant at the other end of the line would learn how a modem works! Is that high techno-camp, or what?) STraightforward! Though essentially a specialized telecommunications package, STraight FAX is much easier to operate than regular terminal software. Once the program is properly configured, it hides the complex business of faxmodem management behind a simple user-interface that automates every aspect of fax communication, and provides clear records of faxes transmitted and received. Initial installation is easy -- an "install" program is supplied on the distribution disk, so all you have to do is point, click, fill in the blanks in the online registration form, then (as a famous scientist once said) "sit back und vatch der blinkenlights." STraight FAX can reside in any folder, and can address independent folders for outgoing and incoming material. Additional preparations are only slightly more complicated. For printing, STraight FAX requires that GDOS (or G+Plus, or Font GDOS, or FSM/GDOS) be installed, though since the program does not require any special fonts for printing, an existing GDOS configuration should work fine. Depending on what version of TOS you're running, it may also be necessary to install one of a variety of AUTO-folder "patches" to insure proper handling of the modem port. The necessary patches are supplied with STraight FAX (Atari has released these to the public domain), and the manual contains a table correlating TOS versions, patches, and flow- control options. Finally, STraight FAX's unattended transmission and logging features require that system time be set correctly. Because early-model STs lack battery-backed clocks, Joppa has thoughtfully included a time-setting utility with the package. This utility can be run as a program or installed as a desk accessory. Additionally, if STraight FAX determines that system time has not been set during the current work-session, it will auto-execute the time-setting program if the utility is stored in the same directory as the main application. Once the program is up and running, online configuration is simple and straightforward. You will have to identify the type of faxmodem you are using (the program supports both Class 2 send/receive faxmodems up to 14,400 baud, and Joppa's own SendFAX, send-only faxmodem), though most other low-level parameters (DTMF intertone delays, redial intervals, comma pause times, etc.) are preset to tolerable default values. Setting baud rate in the program is easy -- just set it to the highest rate your faxmodem will support, and the modem will handle such "stopping down" as may be needed to communicate with lower-speed equipment. Additional configuration options may be set to control automatic cover-page and page-header generation and appearance, influence the formatting of .IMG and Degas files on conversion, and to master certain cosmetic aspects of program behavior (use of "grow" and "shrink" boxes, etc.). Features and Details Though menu-driven, all of STraight FAX's features may also be elicited by keypress. Frequently-used features are coded to the main function keys and to a small button panel, embedded in the screen background. Faxes may thus be sent, received, and scheduled; phone lists may be updated and logs reviewed, all with "one-touch" ease. Four "send" buttons permit transmission of a single document in ASCII, .IMG, Degas, or FAX format. When one of these buttons is clicked, a file selector pops up -- its mask set to reveal only files of the selected type. Once a source document is selected, conversion and transmission proceed immediately unless automatic cover-page generation is active. In this latter case, a default cover-page file is loaded and displayed for approval or modification. Cover pages contain standard fields for sender, recipient, and other information, and can incorporate a graphic saved as a fax-format file. Cover page parameters may be loaded and saved to disk, so several types of cover sheets can be maintained. When a cover page is generated for transmission, variable fields such as date, time, and total number of pages are filled in, automatically. Recipient name can also be filled in by the program, from information found in the telephone list. This is particularly useful when sending the same document to multiple recipients. Selecting a destination fax number is the next step. Just point and double-click, and your fax is on its way. Call progress is monitored by a status dialog box, and automatic redial, re-sending of failed pages, and other "hands off" convenience features are supported. Transmissions are automatically made at the highest speed sender and recipient can support, limited by current line conditions. Successful completion is announced by an audio tone, and entries are automatically made in the transmission log, for later reference. Sending the same document to multiple recipients is just as easy: select multiple destination phone numbers from the phone list (up to 100 numbers may be loaded at once, and phone lists can be saved and loaded from disk), and off you go. STraight FAX automatically logs each requested transfer into the scheduler (using the current time), then calls each number and sends the document. Recipient information, actual time of transmission, and date are automatically modified for each cover page. Call history is saved in the transmission log file. Deferred transmission is also handled by the scheduler: just select a document, approve a cover page, designate one or several recipients, then input a time and date. Entries to the scheduler can be edited or cancelled at any time prior to transmission. STraight fax can only process scheduled transmissions when active, but otherwise unoccupied -- it cannot inherently perform "background processing," nor "wake up" from dormancy to perform pending tasks. For this reason, the program is designed to perform any pending transfers whenever it is executed. A similar problemette occurs on fax receipt: which STraight FAX performs gracefully either in manual or automatic mode -- but only when up and running. Luckily, when Atari releases MultiTOS, later this year, both these quibbles will go away. According to Joppa, STraight FAX is already fully compliant with the promised operating system upgrade. As a MultiTOS background process, STraight FAX will be fully capable of unattended transmission and receipt. Final Notes STraight FAX's 80-page manual is complete, concise, well-organized, and well-written -- covering each aspect of the program in ample detail. The only problem with the manual is that several groups of pages appear more than once -- confusing until you figure things out and remove the extra sheets. Purchase and registration also gives access to Joppa's technical support voice line and BBS, both of which are staffed by technically-expert personnel. The only reasonable objection to the program is its lack of background processing capability, and this problem will evaporate as soon as MultiTOS is released. Beyond this, it's hard to think of any fundamental feature STraight FAX lacks, though it's possible to imagine the program being enhanced, over time, to give access to a wider variety of file-types for direct transmission. Overall, STraight FAX is a very good piece of software. Anyone managing a sales force, keeping in touch with a broad client base, zapping press releases out to expectant media, or fielding any similarly advanced, professional fax application (oxymoronic as this may sound) would be well advised to purchase STraight FAX and an appropriate faxmodem, straightaway. It's simply the cheapest, neatest, most efficient way to deal with the fax phenomenon.