In the past 15 years, the fax machine has become an essential part of almost every office although email has the potential to replace the fax.
As a communication medium, few companies would want to be without such facilities for the time being.
Anyone with a personal computer and a modem effectively has their own dedicated fax machine built into the operating system.
Windows for Work groups, Windows 95 and Windows NT all contain the Microsoft fax software, which can be used to send and receive faxes from your own desktop.
Useful though they are, these are basic tools. For anyone looking for more powerful fax software, there is one product that is by far the market leader – WinFax
Its developer, Symantec, specialises in supplying tools to help users get more out of their computers. Norton Anti-Virus, Act, CrashGuard, Utilities and PC Anywhere are all products which have major benefits for IFAs and which I hope to have time to look at in more detail during this year.
Over the past couple of years, I have come to the conclusion that there are major advantages in obtaining all your additional desktop productivity tools from a single supplier and my first choice is always those on offer from Norton. There is a very simple reason for this. Desktop tools of this type can have a tendency to interrupt the way your system works. For example, provided that you can trust the supplier, it can be a good idea to turn off anti-virus software when installing applications.
If you use desktop tools from multiple suppliers, I have found that, frequently, they can conflict with each other, causing as many problems as they solve. By focusing on a single software developer for products of this type, this risk is substantially reduced.
WinFax provides a feature- rich package. To be fair, it is no longer accurate to describe it as just fax software. It is a full telephone application, including voicemail, multiple voice mailboxes and support for caller ID facilities.
A cover-page design wizard makes it easy to create your own company's fax cover sheets, including logos and other personalisation, in minutes. There is also a library of pre-formatted fax cover sheets to cover virtually every situation, which can also be adapted to include company logos and other stationery features.
If you have created your company letterhead as a template from within your word processor, any document can be faxed straight from your PC.
A word of warning at this point. Logo and other graphics in letterheads can take up big amounts of disk space. The IFA Promotion logo is a classic example. If you are going to use letterhead templates to create documents, it will probably be worth saving the actual word- processing file without the letterhead elements unless you want to use a big amounts of disk space on each document.
When using your PC to receive as well as send faxes, you do not have to have the whole WinFax package running, taking up valuable system resources. As part of the installation routing, WinFax creates a controller which is a cut-down version that sits on your desktop and can happily receive faxes, voicemails and so on, without interrupting your other work. When a fax or message is received, a small icon appears on your toolbar and you can view it when ready.
Having received your fax, you may want to take elements of the message, pass them on to your client or include them in a report. Using the built-in Optical Character Recognition (OCR) facilities, you can convert the received fax into an editable word-processing document, thus avoiding having to retype the contents.
WinFax is an ideal package for anyone wanting to create and manage faxes in a highly efficient way. If a client calls you and asks you to resend the fax you sent three weeks ago, you no longer have to get the file out to do so, walk to the fax machine and manually send it. Just find the previous fax image on your system and in a couple of mouse clicks it is arriving with the client.
To get the best out of WinFax, it is probably best to have a small scanner attached to your PC so that you can send attachments to files.
Personal scanners which work by feeding the document through the scanner can be acquired for under £100.
WinFax sells for around £70 in the retail channel although many modems come with a free copy of WinFax Lite. You can then upgrade to the full product for about £40. If you want to upgrade your modem to a faster speed, this may be worth exploring at the same time.