We've long lamented the wastefulness of stand-alone fax machines when most of the components of them could be used with a computer to further increase productivity. After all, a fax machine is little more than a bad scanner, a poor printer, and a one-way modem in a single box.
Fax modems have helped somewhat by providing a data modem and send fax capabilities in one unit, but the printer and the scanner are still left out. A couple of new products for the popular Hewlett-Packard LaserJet II line of laser printers may help change that, even for Mac users. The first of them, FaxConnection from Extended Systems, comes in two flavors, a $595 plug-in board for the printer and a $695 external box that attaches via parallel cable. Both products sit between the printer and the computer and connect to the phone line to receive faxes. A 256K buffer will store about 12 pages of standard Group III text (though be warned that the standard page of text used in these figures is ridiculously empty of text - we've seen it).
The second product, Tall Tree's Fax-O-Matic, is like the external version of the FaxConnection in that it is an external device that connects in the same manner. The main differences between the two devices are that the Fax-O-Matic has a 512K buffer and an automatic scaling feature that will take a legal sized fax and shrink it to fit on a letter size piece of paper. Fax-O-Matic costs only $399.
These would seem to be limited to the PC-clone users who also have HP LaserJets, but since both the external version of FaxConnection and the Fax-O-Matic device are external devices that connect via a parallel cable to any PCL (Hewlett-Packard's Printer Control Language) printer, other printers might work as well. We'd like to see one of those devices working with the QMS-PS 410, which can automatically switch between AppleTalk and parallel ports and related emulations without user intervention.
We would also like to see fax machines so integrated into computer setups that the fax would only print on paper if no RAM or disk space was available to hold it. Sending and receiving online makes more sense in terms of paper waste (thermal fax paper cannot be recycled) and usability - often a faxed form would be more useful in machine readable form. The most advanced form of this now is Steve Jobs's NeXTstep 2.0, which includes full fax support in the operating system. Now if only the NeXT fax modems could be smart about keeping files in machine readable form if another NeXT is on the other end...
Extended Systems -- 208/322-7575
Tall Tree Systems -- 415/493-1980
Adam C. Engst -- TidBITS Editor
InfoWorld -- 17-Sep-90, Vol. 12, #37, pg. 24
InfoWorld -- 08-Oct-90, Vol. 12, #41, pg. 28