Computer Fax Software.. circa 1991
Another article found at the bottom of a stack of old papers. This was written in April of 1991, and describes the state of computer faxing at that time. Boy, things sure have changed. It's now trivial to have faxing on your computer, but how often do we use it any more? I probably send only one or two faxes a month, and receive even less (except for junk faxes, of course - they still come).
I do seem to have an innate resistance to new technology. I didn't see any need for color TV until well into the 70's, and I am yet to own a VCR or a microwave. My car never chirps at me, our stereo plays only records, there is no phone in my car or my briefcase, and no amount of clapping, foot-stomping or whistling will turn on a single light in our home.
Noted in 2005: while I do have a VCR here somewhere, we don't yet own a DVD player - except on my computer. My car chirps and dings, we have a cd player and color tv's, but no lcd displays, no wide screens, and the lights still work with switches. And of course we have cell phones. We did eventually buy a microwave too, though my wife couldn't see why we needed it - boy, that sure changed in a hurry!
That I own computers is only because these machines are the source and symbol of my livelihood. Without that motivation, I probably wouldn't have one at all. And that's just how I've viewed fax machines. Oh, now and then somebody wants to "fax" something to me, and a few times a year someone asks if I can send some vital piece of paper to them this way, but I have tended to think of such requests as being unreasonably impatient - the U.S. mail takes a few days at most, what's the hurry?
The recent arrival of an Egghead circular offering a "Patriot" combination Fax/Modem for $119.00 after rebate did catch my eye, though. The requests to "fax it" have become more frequent, and I have been feeling just the tiniest bit out of touch and behind the times. OK, truth time: I have felt like a troglydyte. My inner resistance has been buffeted by waves of guilt and a tinge of embarassment. How can I, a supposed computer geek, be so backward and technology deficient? So, while still harboring internal reservations, I called my local Egghead store to find out if the sale was still on and if they had stock on hand. I was almost pleased when they informed me that they had sold out the first day. I could have a rain check if I liked, but they had nothing to sell me. My inner self gloated: no new-fangled computer fax stuff for me.
2005 note: Egghead had retail stores, then became a web only store, and if you try "egghead.com" now, you'll get Amazon.
But then I started thinking. If they sold out that quickly, this must be pretty popular. Would everyone I know now have computer faxing at their fingertips? Would I be the sole remaining fax-less person in America, an object of pitty and scorn? Ahh, to heck with it. I needed some floppy diskettes anyway, so I decided to drive over and maybe I'd just pick up that rain check. Or maybe not. If I did pick it up, that wouldn't mean I'd have to use it. I could just forget about it if I wanted to. Or not. Delaying tactics are very gratifying for inner doubt.
At the store, I poked around a bit, picked up my diskettes and looked over some new software. I then ambled up to the counter to pay and maybe get that rain check. Oh, what the heck, I'd get it.
"Oh," said the manager, "did you call about this a while ago? We found one on the wrong shelf - it's right here."
Sure enough, he had placed the advertised item right in front of my nose. Dilemma. Buy it? Don't buy it? Think about it some more? Darn - I really wanted that rain check! Egghead does have a good return policy, so I could bring it back.. I bought it. Dragged kicking and screaming into the modern world of computer faxing by a stupid rebate coupon - oh, well.
On of those strange circumstantial things happened immediately upon arriving home. A client called explaining that he was trying to write a little program and was having trouble - could he fax it to me? Well.. if he'd give me just a few minutes to install this Patriot thing, yes, maybe he could..
It turns out that the "Patriot" is really an Anchor modem bundled with "Quicklink II" software. The Quicklink handles the sending and receiving of faxes. Sending a fax involves converting text to a ".qfx" format, but that's painless and the software can read Word Perfect, Epson MX-80 print files, and all of the typical graphics file formats (BMP, IMG, MacPaint, PCX, TIFF, CUT) as well as plain old Ascii text. Receiving a fax requires a TSR process (RECFAX) that runs in background and is supposed to discriminate between fax, voice and ordinary modem calls. That's what the manual says, anyway, but in practice I found that this would answer the phone and always think it had an incoming fax. While most clients expect a screech from a modem now and then, they also expect that to be temporary. There's a specific hot-key combination that is supposed to signal RECFAX to release the line and squelch the modem, but it just did not work.
Also, every time I tried to dial out, RECFAX would fire up the modem. The modem had its own share of problems: even without RECFAX running, I kept getting a high percentage of "Your call cannot be completed as dialed" when using it for faxing or ordinary modem work. That was true for Procomm as well as Quicklink, so it had to be the modem.
I called Anchor, left voice mail, but they never called back. Quicklink has a customer support bulletin board, but that was busy for hours on end. When I finally got on, I couldn't find any way to get to a real person, I decided to write them a letter instead. I would have sent a fax, but they don't publish that number. Maybe their RECFAX doesn't work so well either?
Oh well: I can still use this to send faxes, and if I know someone is about to send a fax, I can fire up RECFAX and kill it after I get it. It's quite useful, actually, and I feel so much more "with it". I've also used it as a form of cheap email for instant communication - email can sometimes take a few hours to arrive at its destination.
2005 note: that's sure changed, hasn't it? Nowadays we expect email to arrive in seconds, and it usually does.
I never got an answer to my letter. Flawed as it is, this is still useful, so I've kept it. Someday something more reliable will be available and I'll upgrade. Until then, it's "good enough".
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