REVIEWS

Just the Fax

Who needs paper? A trio of modems let you fax directly from your NeXT

by Simson L. Garfinkel

Faxing has become an essential technology for almost everyone in business today. The traditional way of faxing involves printing out a copy of a document, then using a fax machine to rescan the document into binary format and sending it out over a phone line.

A better approach is to hook the computer directly to the phone line with a fax modem, avoiding the use of paper altogether. This also produces crisper faxes at the receiving end. On the inbound side, a fax modem makes incoming faxes available immediately on your computer; you can type on them with a drawing program or use an optical-character-recognition (OCR) application to translate the image into computer-readable text. Add a scanner to your NeXT and you can also fax documents derived from sources other than computers.

With NeXTSTEP 2.0, NeXT introduced nearly seamless outbound fax capability just print to the fax instead of to a printer or file. But the inbound process was less efficient. Although the fax modem was designed to sit on the network, incoming faxes were e-mailed to a single user who then had to manually forward them to their proper destination. If that user wasn't reading his or her mail, faxes didn't get delivered.

NeXTSTEP 3.0 solves many of the problems with in-bound fax reception. Instead of being e-mailed to a particular user, incoming faxes are stored in a spool directory from where they are assigned to a user by the fax administrator. The new PrintManager application lets you designate as many fax administrators as needed. You can also have NeXTSTEP automatically print each fax when it arrives.

All fax modems are designed to also operate as a standard telecommunications modem. Unfortunately, NeXTSTEP's built-in fax driver takes over the modem, allow-ng you to use the fax modem only for faxes. If you want to use the fax modem for standard telecom, you need to run the PrintManager program and manually disable your computer's faxing capability or use a piece of utility software.

NeXTSTEP 3.0 doesn't solve the fax lockout problem NeXT's driver still doesn't automatically switch between data and fax. NeXT has decided to let third-party developers market solutions instead.

Lockout problems or not, electronic faxing capability is still ex-tremely valuable, and a number of manufacturers have brought fax modems to the NeXT market. We'll look at three that are shipping, revise our opinion of another that we previously reviewed, and consider a piece of fax-modem utility software.

DoveFax Desktop
The DoveFax Desktop is a transplant of the company's fax modem for the Macintosh. It is a bare-bones 24/96 fax modem, meaning that it is equipped to transmit and receive data like a 2400-baud modem and transmit and receive faxes at 9600 baud.

The Dove was the smallest modem we reviewed. It is also the only modem we have ever seen that lacks a power switch instead it sports a long cord with a molded connector in the rear. We didn't like this configuration: If you happen to accidentally damage the cable, you have to send the entire modem back to Dove.

The DoveFax comes with its own driver, which must be installed with NeXT's Installer program, although the driver does not appear to be functionally different from the standard NeXTSTEP driver. It had no trouble working with both NeXTSTEP 2.1 and 3.0.

On several faxes that we transmitted, the DoveFax had the annoy-ing habit of momentarily turning on its speaker at the beginning of every page. Nevertheless, the faxes looked clean and crisp on the other end identical, in fact, to material sent from other fax modems. The modem had no problem receiving faxes from a variety of other fax modems and machines.

HSD FaxMaster 96/24X
HSD's FaxMaster is a solid fax modem. Its 2400-baud modem includes MNP5, which means that you'll see a slightly faster error-free connection when connecting to other MNP5 modems. The HSD FaxMaster 96/24X was formerly sold for NeXT computers under the Abaton label.

HSD provides serial cables for both '030 and '040 NeXTcubes and NeXTstations. Only a two-conductor telephone cable is provided, though; you must replace it to use the FaxMaster with a multiline telephone. The documentation is excellent, including instructions for both installing the modem and viewing faxes.

The FaxMaster uses NeXT-STEP's built-in driver; under NeXT-STEP 2.1, this is the Class II driver. Since the Class II specification is still not finished, and since many modems claiming to be Class II have substantially different command sets, NeXT changed the name of the driver to "HSD Fax Modem" with NeXTSTEP 3.0.

Over six months of use, the FaxMaster has sent faxes flawlessly. While we have twice had problems receiving faxes from oddball fax machines in the field, these were the only glitches from a much larger sample size than either the Dove or the ZyXEL were subjected to.

ZyXEL U-1496
ZyXEL U-1496 is the king of fax modems. Its data side features a 14,400-baud modem with an im-pressive array of protocols, including V.22bis, V.32, V.32bis, and V.42. The fax component sends and receives at 9600 baud.

The ZyXEL has a two-line, 20-character LCD status display panel with four buttons for navigation and changing setup parameters. The LCD screen makes it easy to follow the status of your connection and helps in debugging communications problems. Once the connection is established, the screen prints the average throughput in each direction.

The ZyXEL also contains support for Distinctive Ring, a new feature from the phone company that gives you up to four different telephone numbers but only one physical line each telephone number gets its own ring. With appropriate software, you can instruct the modem to only answer one particular kind of ring. The modem also supports Caller-ID, which again with appropriate software would make it easier to track down people trying to break into your computer.

Although the ZyXEL operated flawlessly as a fax modem, we had to specifically tell it to turn off MNP5 when communicating with a particular 2400-baud modem that did not support the error-correcting protocol.

Other suppliers
We previously reviewed the Neuron FAX96+ modem (NeXTWORLD, Winter 1991). At the time we gave it high marks for a low price point, solid operation, and promises of excellent bundled software. The software never fully materialized, however, and Neuron has stopped marketing the product. They have even stopped answering their phone. In the light of many customer protests and Neuron's inactivity, NeXTWORLD is suspending Neuron's cube rating at this time.

Two other suppliers, Supra and Prometheus, have announced plans to bring their fax modems to the NeXT market. Unfortunately, neither company was able to provide us with a sample product before our deadlines.

A better driver
NXFax is a NeXTSTEP fax driver that solves the fax-lockout problem. Using this driver and an advanced fax modem such as the ZyXEL, you can use the same modem for data or fax: The driver automatically senses what you wish to do and activates the appropriate modem function.

We tested NXFax with the ZyXEL U-1496. The combination worked flawlessly: Incoming faxes were properly delivered to the fax spool directory, and NeXTSTEP alerted the fax administrator that the faxes had arrived. Outgoing faxes were delivered immediately. UNIX communications programs like tip, cu, and kermit worked whenever faxes were not being received or transmitted. Future versions of this driver should support Distinctive Ring and Caller-ID.

B&W Software is bundling its NXFax driver with the ZyXEL modem and a cable for $600. The driver will also be offered seperately for people who already purchased a Neuron modem.

Total System Software is developing a NeXTSTEP fax driver similar to B&W's, but the software wasn't ready in time for review.

Simson L. Garfinkel is a senior editor at NeXTWORLD. He can be reached at simsong@ nextworld.com.


DoveFax Desktop

3 Cubes

A small, low-cost 24/96 fax modem that opens up the world of fax to NeXT users. Molded cable and lack of power switches are minor nuisances.

$279

Dove Computer Corporation, 1200 N. 23rd St., Wilmington, NC 28405.

919/763-7918.

HSD FaxMaster 96/24X

3 Cubes

A solid 96/24 fax modem. This modem features MNP5, although you probably won't use it if you dedicate the modem to fax use.

$495 (bundled with OCR Servant)

HSD Microcomputer US, 1350 Pear Ave., Ste. C, Mountain View, CA 94043.

415/964-1400, 800/828-5522, 415/964-1538 fax.

ZyXEL U-1496

5 Cubes

The Cadillac of modems, it speaks virtually every protocol in the book and includes support for features such as Caller-ID and Distinctive Ring. Handy alphanumeric display.

$467

ZyXEL USA, 4920 E. La Palma, Anaheim, CA 92807.

714/693-0808, 800/255-4101, 714/693-0705 fax.

NXFax

4 Cubes

A utility that allows fax modems to be easily used for both fax and telecommunications.Worked flawlessly in our tests.

$135 ($600 with the ZyXEL U-1496 and cable)

B&W Software, 442 South Hill Rd., Moretown, VT 05660.

802/496-5113.