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Now Your PC Can Fax It for You

RICHARD O'REILLY <i> is director of computer analysis for The Times</i>

The idea of having a computer double as a fax machine is appealing.

Why send a report to your printer and then run the print through a fax machine so that you can transmit it? And why have yet another piece of equipment in your already-crowded office?

Substantial cost savings are possible as well.

A stand-alone fax machine has three components: a scanner that converts printed pages into image data, a fax modem that sends and receives image data over a telephone line and a printer to convert received image data back onto pages.

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You need to add only one of those components to your computer--a fax modem--to allow it to send and receive faxes. Software can take the place of the scanner, converting your word processing, spreadsheet, database or graphics files into the image data required for fax transmission. And the printer attached to your computer can print faxes you receive.

If the fax modem you buy can also double as a data modem for communication with other computers, you save the cost of a data modem and the extra expansion slot it would consume in your computer.

I’ve recently tested two fax-data modems.

The Intel SatisFAXtion, $499, is a full-size internal expansion board for IBM XT, AT and compatible computers. It’s manufactured by Intel Corp. in Santa Clara, (800) 538-3373.

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The Zoltrix ZoFAX 96/24P pocket fax-modem, $350, is a portable external unit ideal for laptop computers. Measuring a mere 5 inches by 3 inches by 1 inch, and powered with a 9-volt battery, it is available from Zoltrix Inc., Fremont, Calif., (415) 657-1188.

There are other fax-data modems with similar features and similar constraints that I have not tested.

The Intel and Zoltrix products provide standard Group III fax communications at 9600 baud and Hayes-compatible data communications at 2400 baud. The Intel board includes the latest MNP5 error correction protocol with its 2400-baud modem.

Both require a graphics monitor plus substantial hard-disk storage space for software and fax image files. Intel recommends 10 megabytes of free disk storage space, and Zoltrix suggests 5 megabytes.

Both work well, but they are not as easy to use as a fax machine. If you are new to computing, wait until you are comfortable using your machine and its word processing software before you tackle the fax function.

If you use Microsoft Windows, you have added difficulties. The Zoltrix fax software cannot be used from within Windows. Instead, you must save Windows files either as graphics (.TIF) files or as text, whichever is appropriate, and then run the Zoltrix software outside Windows, from the DOS prompt.

Intel’s SatisFAXtion can be used quite nicely from inside Windows but not until you obtain additional software, called FAXit for Windows. It’s free, if you don’t throw away the coupon included in the packaging, but you’ll wait four to six weeks for it. (While you’re at it, there’s another coupon for a free copy of PC Tools utility software.)

What comes in the SatisFAXtion box is Intel’s FAXPOP software for use with non-Windows files. You send faxes the same way you would print a file, using an imaginary printer created by the program. FAXPOP will automatically convert Microsoft Word 5.0, WordPerfect 5.1, Q&A; 3.0, Multimate 4.0, Lotus 1-2-3 and Symphony files into fax format.

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The faxes are sent in “background” so that you can continue working on your current program without interruption. Incoming faxes are also received in background, but you can interrupt what you’re doing and view or print them.

The FAXit for Windows software works much the same way within any of your Windows programs and sends fancy typography and graphics images within such files just fine.

The Zoltrix BitFax software that comes with its fax modem also pops up while you are using other programs, if you wish, and it will automatically convert WordPerfect 4.1 and WordStar files. To send a fax, you merely indicate which file you want sent and it will be converted and faxed, also in background. Incoming files, similarly, are received in background.

You can include graphics images in your faxes, such as a company logo, with a special text command placed in the files. The command is read when the fax conversion occurs and causes the graphic file to be merged at the proper place. There is also a text editor in the software, allowing you to write short documents to be faxed without using your word processing program.

The Zoltrix modem comes with an AC power adapter (it runs on a 9-volt battery for three to four hours), short adapter cables to connect to any PC serial port and BitCom communications software, in addition to the BitFax fax software.

Besides the cost and equipment savings realized by using these fax-data modems, the quality of your faxes will be considerably higher.

The software conversion of outgoing faxes creates much better images than the scanner built into fax machines. And incoming faxes printed on a laser printer attached to your computer also yield much higher quality as well as the cost savings of plain paper versus fax paper.

Computer File welcomes readers’ comments but regrets that the author cannot respond individually to letters. Write to Richard O’Reilly, Computer File, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053.

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