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WinFax Pro’s Decade Edition

By Jim Bray

PC faxing software has come a long way, as witnessed by the tenth incarnation of Symantec’s WinFax Pro.

The new version of “the old standby” tries to blend old-style faxing with new-style e-mail – the technology that threatens to eventually push WinFax out of the way.

How things change in a few years! I remember spending two grand on a stand-alone fax machine, and putting up with nasty and curly thermal paper. Now, the fax itself may be heading to the same tar pit as the teletype!

I've used WinFax Pro since Version 4 and, on the whole, the product’s evolution – especially in improved usability – has been quite dramatic. Most of the enhancements in Version Number 10 are more subtle, however, with a couple of exceptions.

The “fax by e-mail” feature, for instance, is important because it doesn't require the recipient to have a fax machine at all – just e-mail access.

Setting the product up for e-mailing is quite easy, though I had some problems getting it to work right off the bat. WinFax is supposed to cuddle a wide variety of e-mail programs, including the one I use, and faxes are theoretically transmitted as self executing file attachments (the fax recipient should only have to double click on the attachment and the fax will open).

Unfortunately, while it appeared to work perfectly up to the time it was meant to leave my machine, WinFax refused to send the e-mails. This could be due to the rather “unique” e-mail server configuration in my home office, however.

Symantec has also learned a nifty trick from those e-mail filters that let you direct spam straight to your trash folder. A new “junk fax filter” lets you store the sender identifier or caller ID (if you subscribe to that feature and your modem supports it). Subsequent offending faxes from those parties are directed away from your inbox.

The product also has a “new year’s resolution.” This particular resolution is supposed to let you fax with near photographic quality, as opposed to the usually crummy way pictures fax. This is a wonderful improvement and it works quite well. I faxed a color bitmap photo of my son and the black and white representation it transmitted was as good as I could expect, given the genetic makeup of the source material.

I'll still take an e-mail attachment, but not everyone has e-mail – yet.

WinFax’ setup program is better, too. When I upgraded the product, the new version looked at my existing configuration and asked if I wanted to use the same settings. I did, so it did.

The software also pokes around to see what PIM you use and, if it finds one it recognizes, it makes the data appear in its phone books section. It correctly found Outlook on my system, though (possibly since I keep my folders remotely) it didn't find the actual information.

Fortunately, I didn't care about this. I have WinFax phone books that I've been upgrading and re-importing for years and I store them separately from my PIM.

Still, you'd think if the software was going to go part way it would go all the way.

They've even given the taskbar’s “ WinFax Controller” icon that a clean new look.

There’s also supposed to be a “drag and drop depot” icon that the software installs onto your desktop. This theoretically lets you drag files directly into WinFax for “instant faxing,” rather than having to load the associated software and “WinFax print” the file. This feature wasn't enabled in my installation, however, probably because I told it not to bother with the desktop icon.

I might have configured it differently if I'd known in advance that the feature was available, which is a perfect lesson as to why it pays to read the instruction manual first…

You can also generate detailed reports about your fax traffic in both directions, based on criteria you tell it, and you can print out the reports for their maximum incrimination or intimidation potential.

Despite the problems I encountered with it, WinFax Pro performs well at the day to day faxing tasks I have. Those duties are becoming fewer every day, however, thanks to e-mail, and I envision the day when I such a product won't be needed.

For now, however, WinFax is a helpful tool to have around.

Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.


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January 31, 2006