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Fax trends and implications

Ten years ago, the office fax was a critical part of business. Back then, the transition was from stand-alone analog fax machines to scanners and modems connected to a computer. Even a small office (like ours) could integrate a database to a fax program and send out fax blasts for clients. Of course, the ease of being able to send out facsimile ‘en masse’ meant that abuses occurred and that stimulated legislation and regulation to inhibit unsolicited faxing.

Nowadays, it seems e-mail attachments are taking over a lot of the fax volume. Fax is still needed, though. Part of this is due to how the law treats facsimile documents and how it defines them. PayPal is a case in point. They got into a banking ruckus about the identity of clients and that meant they needed to verify the status of those clients representing themselves as, for instance, nonprofit associations. One of the ways to satisfy PayPal’s needs was to get a fax cover page from them with case identifying bar codes. Fill in the blanks on the cover page, attach the necessary documentation, and fax it back so they then had proper documentation on file to satisfy regulatory requirements.

Since the very nice PMFax on OS/2 became a bit long in the tooth, I have been using Hylafax on an Ubuntu server with a couple of US Robotics v.everything modems. I have also installed it on the eBox machine. Hylafax, like eBox, is a bit more potent than needed for a SOHO environment. That means that setup and management is a bit of a pain.

eBox does not yet support fax services. It is also not a feature found in network appliances like the ReadyNAS that provides for many other protocols and for printer sharing. That is one indication that fax service is a rather low priority. A fax server such as Hylafax can be installed alongside eBox without encountering conflict problems. It also seems possible to install on a well endowed NAS as those have USB ports (modern modems are even powered via USB), print sharing, media streaming service, and user access controls already. A fax server doesn’t require that much processing power so it shouldn’t overload the computing capabilities of the device.

An alternative I am testing is an all-in-one device with print, fax, and scan. The HP M1522nf was on sale with a good rebate a while back (thanks The biggest problem with this it is limited in its Linux software and doesn’t cache incoming faxes in a way you can avoid printing them but just download from the machine’s web server. It does have spam fax blocking so you can reject faxes with selected fax ID’s (which are required by regulation but sometimes ignored).

With an automatic fax detector on your line (see Command Communications for example), you can filter out junk faxes and often eliminate the need to print any fax you receive. The fax can contribute directly to your data store. With the proper setup, it can be a convenient means to communicate. It was ten years ago but is a bit more of a pain now.

These parts and pieces add up. Simplifying the hardware would be nice and it would also reduce the residual power drains. That might only be a few dollars but it does add up.

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