Straight Fax/Telecommunications/Commercial

Date: 07/18/92-02:15:36 PM Z

Subject: Straight Fax/Telecommunications/Commercial
Date: Sat Jul 18 14:15:36 1992

Take from: Atari Explorer Online (#9205)

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 Requirements: Any ST, STe, or TT computer with 1 MB or more RAM.
 Class 2 Faxmodem (receive and transmit) or SendFAX modem (send only).

 Summary: Powerful and well-designed send/receive fax software package.

 Manufacturer: Joppa Software Development, P.O. Box 214, Dallastown, PA
 17313-0214 (717) 428-3231

 Price: $89.95

 Let me admit my bias: I think fax is pretty much an all-around stone
 drag.  Fax machines cost too much, waste paper, and produce substandard
 output that can't be read directly by machines.  Unfortunately, the
 Luddite majority has been led to believe that fax is a miracle of
 information science, and has embraced the standard with bleating,
 sheeplike enthusiasm.  The resulting trend leaves us technically-
 literate types with no choice but to conform -- admitting that the fax
 standard exists, and using it when there's no reasonable alternative.

 The real miracle of fax, of course, is that people will pay upwards of
 six bills for the equivalent of a cheap auto-dial telephone, a handful
 of stock chips, and a low-res thermal printer.  Luckily, however,
 there's now an alternative.  Just because we're forced to use fax from
 time to time doesn't mean we have to put up with its unwieldy,
 redundant, underpowered, and overpriced machinery.  Combined with one of
 the new high-speed faxmodems, Joppa's inexpensive STraight FAX software
 turns your Atari ST or TT into a versatile facsimile workstation, as
 powerful as the best stand-alone, plain-paper fax machines on the

 The Basics

 STraight FAX works by coordinating system resources -- faxmodem,
 printer, and hand scanner -- to substitute for the components of a fax
 machine.  But by dissociating these components, it achieves efficiencies
 a stand-alone fax can't match.  Unlike a regular fax, which accepts only
 physical documents, STraight FAX can take input in file form --
 transparently converting ASCII text (from word processors, spreadsheets,
 databases, etc.), .IMG, and Degas files to its own "fax" format, prior
 to transmission.  This approach saves time and paper, eliminates feed
 errors, and scotches any physical limitation on feed capacity.  Perhaps
 even more important, converted documents are free of the spurious data,
 shadowing, and other problems introduced when physical pages are scanned
 into a standard fax, making for far cleaner output at the destination.

 To broaden the range of applications that can provide input to STraight
 FAX, Joppa has created "printer drivers" for Calamus (1.9 and SL),
 PageStream (1.8 and 2.1), and GDOS that let these programs produce fax
 files directly.  Multiple-page transmissions can be assembled from up to
 33 files in any of the supported formats (ASCII, .IMG, Degas .PI3, and
 "fax" (.J01 to .J99 extenders)); and the file-conversion routines can be
 operated manually to convert files to fax format for later sending.
 This capability is leveraged by sophisticated features permitting
 deferred document transmission.

 Faxing hardcopy requires a hand-scanner (MiGraph, Golden Image, etc.),
 plus Dr. Bobware's ScanLite desk accessory.  With ScanLite present,
 STraight FAX controls your scanner directly, using ScanLite to combine
 the narrow "strips" produced by each pass into a single, seamless image.
 The image can then be reviewed, cropped, and massaged in one of STraight
 FAX's four "view windows," before saving as an .IMG file for

 While this is admittedly somewhat more laborious than simply feeding
 hardcopy to a fax machine, there are real advantages to this approach.
 Not least of these is the fact that scanned documents can be "touched
 up" (e.g., algorithmically smoothed, contrast-corrected, etc.) prior to
 transmission, making for clearer output at the destination end.

 As STraight FAX receives a document, it outputs a series of page-files
 in its own "fax" format -- optionally displaying these in a view window
 as pages are received.  Once transmission is complete, fax files may be
 printed (using GDOS), reviewed directly in a view window, or converted
 to .IMG format for various purposes, including import to graphics, DTP,
 or perhaps even OCR software.  (Now there's irony for you: use all this
 sophisticated tech to receive a fax, process it through MiGraph OCR, and
 end up with the same ASCII text file you could have downloaded directly
 if the ruminant at the other end of the line would learn how a modem
 works!  Is that high techno-camp, or what?)


 Though essentially a specialized telecommunications package, STraight
 FAX is much easier to operate than regular terminal software.  Once the
 program is properly configured, it hides the complex business of
 faxmodem management behind a simple user-interface that automates every
 aspect of fax communication, and provides clear records of faxes
 transmitted and received.

 Initial installation is easy -- an "install" program is supplied on the
 distribution disk, so all you have to do is point, click, fill in the
 blanks in the online registration form, then (as a famous scientist once
 said) "sit back und vatch der blinkenlights." STraight FAX can reside in
 any folder, and can address independent folders for outgoing and
 incoming material.

 Additional preparations are only slightly more complicated.  For
 printing, STraight FAX requires that GDOS (or G+Plus, or Font GDOS, or
 FSM/GDOS) be installed, though since the program does not require any
 special fonts for printing, an existing GDOS configuration should work
 fine.  Depending on what version of TOS you're running, it may also be
 necessary to install one of a variety of AUTO-folder "patches" to insure
 proper handling of the modem port.  The necessary patches are supplied
 with STraight FAX (Atari has released these to the public domain), and
 the manual contains a table correlating TOS versions, patches, and flow-
 control options.

 Finally, STraight FAX's unattended transmission and logging features
 require that system time be set correctly.  Because early-model STs lack
 battery-backed clocks, Joppa has thoughtfully included a time-setting
 utility with the package.  This utility can be run as a program or
 installed as a desk accessory.  Additionally, if STraight FAX determines
 that system time has not been set during the current work-session, it
 will auto-execute the time-setting program if the utility is stored in
 the same directory as the main application.

 Once the program is up and running, online configuration is simple and
 straightforward.  You will have to identify the type of faxmodem you are
 using (the program supports both Class 2 send/receive faxmodems up to
 14,400 baud, and Joppa's own SendFAX, send-only faxmodem), though most
 other low-level parameters (DTMF intertone delays, redial intervals,
 comma pause times, etc.) are preset to tolerable default values.
 Setting baud rate in the program is easy -- just set it to the highest
 rate your faxmodem will support, and the modem will handle such
 "stopping down" as may be needed to communicate with lower-speed
 equipment.  Additional configuration options may be set to control
 automatic cover-page and page-header generation and appearance,
 influence the formatting of .IMG and Degas files on conversion, and to
 master certain cosmetic aspects of program behavior (use of "grow" and
 "shrink" boxes, etc.).

 Features and Details

 Though menu-driven, all of STraight FAX's features may also be elicited
 by keypress.  Frequently-used features are coded to the main function
 keys and to a small button panel, embedded in the screen background.
 Faxes may thus be sent, received, and scheduled; phone lists may be
 updated and logs reviewed, all with "one-touch" ease.

 Four "send" buttons permit transmission of a single document in ASCII,
 .IMG, Degas, or FAX format. When one of these buttons is clicked, a file
 selector pops up -- its mask set to reveal only files of the selected
 type.  Once a source document is selected, conversion and transmission
 proceed immediately unless automatic cover-page generation is active.
 In this latter case, a default cover-page file is loaded and displayed
 for approval or modification.

 Cover pages contain standard fields for sender, recipient, and other
 information, and can incorporate a graphic saved as a fax-format file.
 Cover page parameters may be loaded and saved to disk, so several types
 of cover sheets can be maintained.  When a cover page is generated for
 transmission, variable fields such as date, time, and total number of
 pages are filled in, automatically.  Recipient name can also be filled
 in by the program, from information found in the telephone list.  This
 is particularly useful when sending the same document to multiple

 Selecting a destination fax number is the next step.  Just point and
 double-click, and your fax is on its way.  Call progress is monitored by
 a status dialog box, and automatic redial, re-sending of failed pages,
 and other "hands off" convenience features are supported.  Transmissions
 are automatically made at the highest speed sender and recipient can
 support, limited by current line conditions.  Successful completion is
 announced by an audio tone, and entries are automatically made in the
 transmission log, for later reference.

 Sending the same document to multiple recipients is just as easy: select
 multiple destination phone numbers from the phone list (up to 100
 numbers may be loaded at once, and phone lists can be saved and loaded
 from disk), and off you go.  STraight FAX automatically logs each
 requested transfer into the scheduler (using the current time), then
 calls each number and sends the document.  Recipient information,
 actual time of transmission, and date are automatically modified for
 each cover page.  Call history is saved in the transmission log file.

 Deferred transmission is also handled by the scheduler: just select a
 document, approve a cover page, designate one or several recipients,
 then input a time and date.  Entries to the scheduler can be edited or
 cancelled at any time prior to transmission.  STraight fax can only
 process scheduled transmissions when active, but otherwise unoccupied --
 it cannot inherently perform "background processing," nor "wake up" from
 dormancy to perform pending tasks.  For this reason, the program is
 designed to perform any pending transfers whenever it is executed.  A
 similar problemette occurs on fax receipt: which STraight FAX performs
 gracefully either in manual or automatic mode -- but only when up and

 Luckily, when Atari releases MultiTOS, later this year, both these
 quibbles will go away.  According to Joppa, STraight FAX is already
 fully compliant with the promised operating system upgrade.  As a
 MultiTOS background process, STraight FAX will be fully capable of
 unattended transmission and receipt.

 Final Notes

 STraight FAX's 80-page manual is complete, concise, well-organized, and
 well-written -- covering each aspect of the program in ample detail.
 The only problem with the manual is that several groups of pages appear
 more than once -- confusing until you figure things out and remove the
 extra sheets.  Purchase and registration also gives access to Joppa's
 technical support voice line and BBS, both of which are staffed by
 technically-expert personnel.

 The only reasonable objection to the program is its lack of background
 processing capability, and this problem will evaporate as soon as
 MultiTOS is released.  Beyond this, it's hard to think of any
 fundamental feature STraight FAX lacks, though it's possible to imagine
 the program being enhanced, over time, to give access to a wider variety
 of file-types for direct transmission.

 Overall, STraight FAX is a very good piece of software.  Anyone managing
 a sales force, keeping in touch with a broad client base, zapping press
 releases out to expectant media, or fielding any similarly advanced,
 professional fax application (oxymoronic as this may sound) would be
 well advised to purchase STraight FAX and an appropriate faxmodem,
 straightaway.  It's simply the cheapest, neatest, most efficient way to
 deal with the fax phenomenon.

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