The number and variety of responses to Jeff Hecht's article "FaxSTF Echoes Sad State of Fax Software" in TidBITS-476 surprised us, in large part because with the exception of contributing editor Mark Anbinder, who's been a fan of Global Village's GlobalFax forever, we simply don't like fax software enough to use it for anything. Informal discussions with other Mac users over the years have turned up opinions similar to ours, with the norm being a grudging admittance that whatever fax software was bundled with the person's modem was just barely acceptable for occasional use. Several people said they were fond of earlier versions of FaxSTF but found the current FaxSTF Pro 5.0 problematic.
Judging from the email we and Jeff received, many people still maintain that opinion, but it's not as universal as we previously thought. GlobalFax and FaxExpress garnered numerous recommendations, a variety of other packages were mentioned, and proponents of Internet faxing spoke up in favor of the proliferating Internet fax services.
GlobalFax Defended -- By far the most common comment on the article was that anyone interested in faxing from a Mac should buy a copy of Global Village's GlobalFax software. As noted in the article, the current GlobalFax 2.6.5 works only on the internal modems in recent Macs, so, unless you see the need to buy a new computer with a new internal modem, it's not an option. Global Village even provides this somewhat ominous warning on the GlobalFax Web page:
"GlobalFax 2.6.5 will not work with external modems or modems which were NOT included with or purchased directly from Apple Computer for the iMac, G3 PowerBook Series, G3 Desktop/Minitower Series, or the Power Mac 6500."
However, as several readers pointed out, previous versions of GlobalFax work fine with external Global Village modems. Compatibility with Mac OS 8.5.1 is debatable, but since used external 14.4 Kbps Global Village modems are extremely cheap and since you can theoretically download the appropriate software from Global Village, there isn't a large financial liability to trying out older versions. Of course, you may not have a serial port free, but an older Mac could operate as a fax Mac. Another possibility, if you lack a free serial port, would be to buy an old Global Village ADB-based modem just for faxing.
FaxExpress Recommended -- A program we hadn't heard of before garnered almost as many recommendations as GlobalFax. FaxExpress, from the British company Glenwarne, isn't well known in the United States since Glenwarne is still looking for a U.S. distributor, but Mac users in other countries appear to like it, calling FaxExpress "rock solid" and noting that it has the low system requirements of a Macintosh SE running System 7.1. FaxExpress comes in both single-user and network versions, making it a solution for the network fax software issue raised below. It also offers database extensions that enable you to fax directly from within a database.
Other Programs Mentioned -- Although GlobalFax and FaxExpress took awards for most recommendations, other programs - most obsolete - were featured in individual messages.
MacComCenter Plus, though it sounds like merely an update to the MacComCenter program that was bundled with Jeff's modem and that worked poorly, is reportedly essentially a different program, with features like fax-on-demand. MacComCenter's future is unclear now that Smith Micro Software has purchased STF Technologies (see below).
FAXcilitate, which was bundled with Supra (now Diamond Multimedia) modems, reportedly still works with Mac OS 8.5.1, though it hasn't been updated in some time. It's still bundled with Supra modems, though I can't see any way of buying it separately or finding more information about modem compatibility.
Apple Telecom, which is free from Apple, works with the Apple Express Modem, GeoPort Telephone Adapter Pod, or GeoPort Internal Comm Slot Modem (and reportedly Global Village external modems, though I haven't been able to verify that assertion). It hasn't been modified since the release of Mac OS 7.5, but Apple has tested it for compatibility with Mac OS 8.5. If you have an appropriate modem, you can download the latest version.
ValueFax, the one shareware entrant in this field, hasn't been updated in almost two years but reportedly still works for basic faxing. Its ReadMe claims that it was commercially available under different names before being released as shareware.
Several people asked about Macintosh versions of the multi-function fax/scanner/copier/printer machines that are available for Windows. Although you may be able to print to these devices using Infowave's PowerPrint drivers, there's no way to access the fax or scanner functionality from a Mac. Don't feel left out - some people who have used them under Windows have commented that these devices may pack a lot of functionality into a single machine, but none of the functions work well in comparison with stand-alone scanners, printers, or fax machines.
Network Fax Software -- The issue of network fax software arose on TidBITS Talk shortly after Jeff Hecht's original article appeared in TidBITS. The concept is simple - you don't want to buy a fax modem for every Mac on your network, you just want everyone to be able to fax to a single network-savvy fax modem. The most commonly suggested solutions were 4-Sight FAX from 4-Sight and the fax module for the highly modular messaging software CommuniGate from Stalker Software.
It turns out that FAXstf also comes in a network version, the FAXstf Network Edition. Also mentioned were the OneWorld servers, which are hardware boxes that provide network fax support, along with a variety of other features, including Internet access. Finally, some of Apple's LaserWriters could take optional fax cards, although the software is unfortunately no longer supported. Use LaserWriter 8.2.3f for those printers, but note that it may not work all that well under Mac OS 8.0 and later.
Opinions about these products varied, so I recommend you read the relevant posts in TidBITS Talk if you're interested in this topic.
Improving Fax Quality -- One factor cited as a reason to use a fax modem over a fax machine is that fax modems never have trouble with straight lines, something that fax machines often screw up. Also, although fax modems won't fax at a higher resolution than fax machines, the fact that the original doesn't go through another generation (printing, then scanning) means that the quality is often quite a bit higher. However, as photojournalist Curtis Corlew <firstname.lastname@example.org> pointed out, you do have to use the highest quality settings, which significantly increase transmission time.
There are several other techniques for improving the quality of faxes sent via fax modem.
Make sure to use a scalable font, either TrueType or PostScript (with ATM installed) for the best scaling.
Increase the font size slightly from what you'd use normally, again to eliminate characters running together when viewed at low resolution.
Send test pages with different fonts and graphics (and using different quality levels) to a friend's fax machine so you can see what works the best before you need to fax an important document. You might also try sending these to one of the Internet fax receiving services to see how they look in that form.
Smith Micro Buys STF Technologies -- It's always awkward when facts in an article change at the last minute, but we were chagrined to find out that the day after the article appeared, Smith Micro Software (makers of MacComCenter) acquired STF Technologies (makers of FAXstf Pro). Although I saw no mention of this on the Smith Micro Web site, it would stand to reason that either MacComCenter and FAXstf Pro will disappear in favor of the other, or the two will be merged into a single product. My suspicion is that MacComCenter is slated for the heap, since FAXstf is STF's primary product, and I can't see why Smith Micro would have bothered buying STF if they didn't want the FAXstf code.
Internet Faxing -- For many people, Internet faxing is the way of the future, since it eliminates the need for even a modem (assuming you have another way of accessing the Internet). We'll delve more into that topic in a future issue of TidBITS.