As I reported last month, the Windows NT market is virtually awash with fax server products. So many NT-based fax server products are available that it's taken me months to work my way through them. Picking the product that best suits your needs is a challenge. If you don't have months to invest in a comprehensive evaluation, you can take advantage of the time I've spent reviewing these products to get a head start on your search for the appropriate fax server.
Last month I reviewed Faxination from Fenestrae, FAXport from LANSource, RightFAX from RightFAX, and Zetafax from Zetafax. I also reviewed Brooktrout's TR114 fax adapter. This month I'm looking at FACSys 4.1 from Optus Software, FaxFacts from Copia, Fax Sr. from Omtool, and FaxWorks Pro LAN from Global Village Communication. Please note that I'm not implying any ranking in regard to how I'm presenting the reviews. The magazine issue and order the reviews appear in are simply luck of the draw.
I'll wrap up the rest of the products on the market next month. And I'm sure the squelching noise of fax negotiation will fade from my memory sooner or later.
People equate NT with Intel CPUs. This bias means that if you are an Alpha-based NT shop, software is hard to find. If you want to use a fax server on your NT Alpha server, what choices do you have? The FACSys 4.1 fax server package from Optus Software is one option.
FACSys includes several features you will find useful in an enterprise fax server environment. The software is a true client/server application and supports connectivity over NetBEUI, IPX, TCP/IP, and named pipe connections, allowing for connectivity in a range of networking environments. The software supports Class 2 fax modems in addition to fax boards from Brooktrout, GammaLink, Intel SatisFAXtion, and FerrariFax. For inbound faxes, FACSys lets you route faxes to users using Direct Inward Dialing (DID), dual-tone multifrequency (DTMF), and Customer Subscriber Identification (CSID) when you use a routing-capable fax board.
FACSys maintains a user database with various options to control user access to fax server resources. The software has an undocumented command-line utility, NTSYNC, that lets you import your NT user database into FACSys. Alternatively, you can use one of the various FACSys email gateways. For example, if you have the Exchange gateway, you can import user settings from the Exchange recipients folder.
In terms of interaction with email systems, FACSys offers support unparalleled by any other fax server. A standard feature (not an optional add-on) in the FACSys software is the ability to interact with up to 32 different email systems. The package is fully integrated with Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft Mail, Novell MHS, Novell Group-Wise, Lotus cc:Mail, Lotus Notes, Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP)/Post Office Protocol (POP) 3, and SAP R/3. The package will automatically route inbound faxes to your email software in TIFF, G3/G4, or DCX format. When you use Microsoft Exchange, you can use the Least Cost Routing (LCR) services that Exchange Server provides to reduce your faxing costs.
For my testing, I loaded FACSys on my Digital Prioris HX-590 dual-Pentium-processor server, running NT Server 4.0 with a Brooktrout TR114 fax board. The product will install on NT Server 3.51 or 4.0 or NT Workstation 3.51 or 4.0 on Intel or Alpha platforms. Installation took 2 minutes. After loading the CD-ROM and executing the setup program, I answered a few questions, and the setup program proceeded with the installation. To complete the setup process after the installation finished, I had to add users, configure devices, and perform other administrative tasks using the default Admin user the software installs for you. I performed these administrative tasks through the FACSys client software program, which I had to install separately off the distribution CD-ROM. Screen 1 shows a send-fax session I was able to initiate shortly thereafter.
Like many other server-based programs, FACSys includes threshold alerts that monitor your fax server's resources and perform key housekeeping chores automatically, reducing your overall systems administration activity. Configurable alerts include a low disk space alert (which is always a problem, even without a fax server) and a channel error threshold alert (which can indicate a failing hardware component or poor-quality telephone circuit). An example of a housekeeping task includes the ability to delete any fax more than a certain number of days old. Unfortunately, FACSys does not have a corrective action capability that lets you automatically perform a task when an alert occurs (e.g., deleting any faxes older than 7 days when the software determines the server is low on disk space).
FACSys offers the FACSys Web Agent as an add-on component. The Web Agent is an extension of the FACSys server that lets users with Web browsers connect to the system and send and receive faxes. This solution lets your offsite users—people in a satellite office or roaming users who connect to your site through various Internet Service Providers (ISPs) around the country—access fax resources. The service is not open to anyone who connects to your Web site. Before accessing the Web server, users must log on with a valid username and password. They receive faxes as GIF images that they can read in their browser. To send a fax, users enter administrative information (destination fax number and so on) through a standard HTML interface, and documents to be faxed are sent to the server via FTP.
FACSys has a segmented licensing system. Although the price is higher than some competing products, if you need Alpha support, this product is the one to consider. The combination of features and reasonable price make it a winner.
Optus Software 732-271-9568
Price: $995 per server license (multiserver discounts available), $49.95 Exchange Connector, $49 per seat client license (multiserver discounts available)
|System Requirements: Windows NT 3.51 or later Fax modem or fax board|
Do you need a basic fax server but don't want to pay thousands of dollars for a comprehensive fax package that offers many features you'll never use? Do you need a fax server package that will run on NT or an MS-DOS machine? Copia's FaxFacts might meet your needs.
The FaxFacts server can reside on DOS, Windows 3.1, Win95, or NT. To use the product, you must have a fax board, such as Brooktrout, GammaFax, or Dialogic. You cannot use a fax modem. Copia recommends that you use a dedicated workstation rather than your usual network server as the FaxFacts server.
FaxFacts offers the basic send and receive fax capabilities that you need in a workgroup fax environment. You can use these features through a small front-end sending application and a fax print driver. However, the software has a couple of features that make it suitable for bulk faxing, a capability your company might want if you distribute sales literature or other information by fax.
The FaxFacts Broadcast applet that accompanies the basic FaxFacts applet lets you quickly send faxes to hundreds, if not thousands, of users. The program presents a window with a series of fields to specify how you want the fax sent, including the recipients of the fax (a file containing a list of phone numbers and names), which files you want to send, and additional information about how the fax server needs to process the broadcast (e.g., the time to start sending, the priority level, and whether to include a cover sheet).
To test the software, I used an Acer America Pentium system running NT Workstation 4.0 with Service Pack (SP) 3. I installed the Brooktrout TR114 fax board that I had previously used in my NT server to test other enterprise-level fax servers. This system has 64MB of RAM and a Diamond Stealth video card.
Installing and configuring the software was time consuming but not difficult. My test version came on 10 high-density diskettes. Each diskette contained a series of zip files that the installation program, install.exe, on Disk 1 interactively unzips into an installation directory. The installation process took 15 minutes, with me constantly feeding my floppy drive. After installation finishes, you have to provide some basic configuration information to get the software operational, as Screen 2 shows.
To send a fax with FaxFacts, you run a program called FaxFacts Fax From Windows (FFWIN). This basic utility program lets you maintain your personal phone book and send faxes. When you launch ffwin.exe, a small switchboard appears with four options: Send Fax, Phone Book, User Registration, and Setup. You use the User Registration and Setup options to maintain your FaxFacts environment, and the Send Fax and Phone Book options to manage outbound faxes.
You can also send faxes from within any Windows application using the FaxFacts printer driver. This driver installs when you set up each client. To use this feature, open the file you want to fax using the appropriate application and print to the FFWIN print driver. This procedure launches the Send Fax dialog box you see when you use ffwin.exe's Send Fax option.
To view inbound faxes, Copia includes the FaxFacts Viewer program. The viewer lets you load inbound fax images, view them online, perform basic image manipulation (such as rotating the image or inverting the black and white colors in the image), print the fax, or resend the fax to another recipient. I found the graphical processing capability of this utility very poor. Loading inbound faxes for viewing caused a significant amount of screen flicker.
Unfortunately, FaxFacts does not integrate with any email systems, such as Lotus Notes or Microsoft Exchange. To get this functionality, you must purchase a Fax Mail add-on module that uses the DID capabilities of high-end fax boards to identify the recipient of a fax. The Fax Mail module stores the fax in a centralized mail database, from which authorized individuals can retrieve their faxes, automatically print them to a specific printer, or automatically route them to another fax machine. The Fax Mail component also lets you route faxes to a specific email address within Exchange.
While the basic FaxFacts product does not contain many bells and whistles compared to other fax products, the software is inexpensive. The pricing scheme lets small, workgroup-level fax environments implement a fax server solution at an affordable price.
Copia 630-778-8898 or 800-689-8898
Price: $330 to $2500
|System Requirements: Windows NT 3.51 or later Fax board|
Fax Sr. 2.0
Omtool's Fax Sr. is a department- to company-level fax server solution that operates with Class 2 fax modems in addition to high-end fax boards. The software offers multiplatform client connection capabilities and several enterprise-level features.
In addition to the basic features you expect in a fax server product, the software includes LCR features that let you perform global routing based on criteria such as fax size. The product includes an activity monitor, so you can monitor the status of the different Fax Sr. services running on the server and have the software automatically perform different actions depending on events. For example, if you have multiple fax modems running on your system and one of the modems fails, you can have Fax Sr. automatically reroute faxes from the failed modem to the working modem.
I also like Fax Sr.'s Approval Client option. With this option, you can view, approve, reject, or delay faxes your users send. This option is useful in environments where fax abuse is rampant. Whenever a user submits a fax, the fax waits approval pending in the queue until you approve or reject it. However, the approval option can be time consuming for the administrator, especially in a busy environment. For this reason, Omtool's Access Control option, which lets you establish a list of area codes users can or cannot send faxes to (or a list of area codes for which the fax is delayed until rates are lower), is a more viable option to help you keep fax costs down.
Fax Sr. installation was fairly involved compared to the other fax server products I have installed. My test copy arrived on a CD-ROM, which contains virtually every release of Fax Sr. and every available option. To install on my test Digital Prioris HX-590 running NT Server 4.0, I loaded the CD-ROM into my reader, drilled down to \faxsr386\disk1, and ran setup.exe. Because Fax Sr.'s fax server is available for several versions of NT (Intel and Alpha), an autorun or setup.exe file does not exist in the root directory of the CD-ROM to automate installation.
The installation process prompts you with a series of questions regarding the type of installation you want to perform (e.g., full), the destination directory for the installation, an image viewer (to view received faxes), and the type of network you want the software to operate on. As a client/server fax solution, Fax Sr. supports named pipes, IPX/SPX, file services, and TCP/IP using the Winsock standard. The final question the installation software asks is what type of fax device you plan to use. I opted for the MultiTech Class 2 fax modem I already had on the system for testing other products. After answering the questions, the installation proceeded and concluded about 15 minutes later, when I had to reboot. The installation process seemed lengthy, considering all the files were on CD-ROM and no disk swapping was necessary.
The file services connection capability is a useful feature if you plan to deploy Fax Sr. in a multiplatform environment or in a smaller environment where you use NetBEUI and might not use IP or IPX. This connection capability lets client systems submit faxes for processing by writing the fax data to a shared directory on the fax server. You can access the shared directory from a client system using any of several methods (e.g., standard Windows networking or NFS). At regular intervals, the Fax Sr. fax server scans the common directory for files, and processes any new outbound fax files it locates. Likewise, whenever the fax server receives an incoming fax transmission, it writes the file to this common directory, from which a client system can retrieve the file.
Omtool's Fax Sr. offers several ways to send and receive faxes. The first option is to use the Omtool client fax program, in Screen 3. This software lets you send and view faxes and maintain your address books quickly and easily from NT, Win95, and Windows 3.1. Omtool also has fax clients available for Macintosh computer systems, MS-DOS machines, and Motif (X-Windows) running on VAX, HP-UX, and Digital UNIX installations (sorry SCO, no client for you).
As with virtually every other fax server I tested, Fax Sr. also includes a Print to Fax feature that lets you send a fax from almost any Windows application. With Print to Fax, you print to a specially installed printer that redirects your printout to the fax server, after the software prompts you for basic fax destination information.
Fax Sr. interacts with several different email interfaces, including Lotus Notes, SMTP, and Exchange. When you work with Exchange, the software lets you send faxes directly from the Exchange or Outlook client. The software also has a Print to Mail feature (similar to the Print to Fax feature) so that you can print from a Windows application and have Exchange process the outbound fax using the Exchange address book. This feature is useful if you plan to use the Exchange interaction capabilities of Fax Sr. but don't want to maintain multiple address books.
The price for Fax Sr. includes a server license with support for 25 users. The range of support for numerous hardware and operating system platforms makes this product a good choice for enterprise environments with diverse needs.
|Fax Sr. 2.0|
Omtool 603-898-8900 800-886-7845
Price: $2495 for a 25-user, single server
|System Requirements: Windows NT 3.51 or later Fax modem or fax board|
FaxWorks Pro LAN
If your business has been networked for a long time, chances are you have a Novell network somewhere in your company. Until NT, Novell NetWare was the most popular network operating system on the Intel platform. If you need fax capabilities from both your state-of-the-art NT hosts and legacy NetWare systems, FaxWorks Pro LAN, from Global Village Communication (GVC), offers NT and NetWare integration.
FaxWorks Pro LAN is a department- and company-level fax server product that supports multiple FaxWorks fax queues on multiple file servers for up to 96 fax ports. The main 32-bit fax scheduler is multithreaded under NT and provides features such as automatic inbound routing, automatic email routing, built-in fax content security, and support for multiple fax devices, including high-end fax boards.
Getting FaxWorks Pro LAN installed and operational was difficult. Opening the FaxWorks Windows NT Administration Manual to see diagrams and references to NetWare and its constructs should have tipped me off from the start. For example, the Planning section of the Administration manual has a section on setting up fax users. The manual mentions that you can create the user list manually or import it from the NetWare binary or NDSnot a very helpful suggestion in an NT Server environment. GVC needs to update its documentation to be more NT-specific.
Setup is a four-step process. First, you perform an administrative setup to create your FaxWorks Server Directory, which contains a directory structure to service fax requests. Second, you install the FaxWorks Pro LAN client software located in subdirectory WINSTALL off the server directory. Third, you run the client software and select Network, User Maintenance from the menu bar to create fax users. Finally, you install the NT fax service (run setup in the fax service subdirectory on the distribution CD-ROM) and configure it. As Screen 4 shows, I configured the Brooktrout TR114 board with FaxWorks. My test installation took about 45 minutes.
You can send a fax with FaxWorks two ways. You can send a fax from any Windows application by printing to the FaxWorks printer driver, which routes the fax to the appropriate fax server for processing. Alternatively, you can use the FaxWorks client application to send a quick fax. However, you can send quick faxes only in certain file formats (e.g., TIFF). If you want to send a fax from Microsoft Word, the first method is easier.
FaxWorks also has the optional FaxWorks Gateway for Exchange. This extension lets users send, receive, and view faxes using the Exchange or Outlook client. It does require a minimal amount of setup and integration with your Exchange server; however, it supports advanced features such as DID, CSID, and DTMF mailbox routing for automatic message delivery.
I liked FaxWorks' fax-to-optical character recognition (OCR) conversion capabilities. In many instances, after you receive a fax you have two choices: read it or delete it. In some cases, you can save the fax to a file and, depending on the software, feed the file into an OCR program. FaxWorks, however, can convert inbound faxes to text automatically. As with any OCR package, if you get garbage in, you'll get garbage out. In testing this FaxWorks feature, I found that it worked moderately well on fax-machine generated traffic and very well on fax-server generated traffic.
FaxWorks also has a scan-to-fax feature in its client software. With this feature, you can scan one or more pages and attach them to your fax. This feature is helpful in environments that require you to fax many individual pages (e.g., a police department that faxes fingerprint cards to state or federal law enforcement agencies). The software supports several proprietary scanners in addition to all TWAIN-compliant scanner devices, which means you can fax pictures from devices such as digital cameras as well as traditional scanners.
FaxWorks is a good basic application without many of the bells-and-whistles, such as comprehensive cost reporting (although the package does support basic billing codes), LCR, and load distribution, that you find in enterprise-level fax products. If you need only a few licenses, the software is affordable. If you need many licenses, you might want to look elsewhere for an unlimited user option from a competitor.
|FaxWorks Pro LAN|
Global Village Communication 408-523-1000 or 800-736-4821
Price: $195 2-user license
|System Requirements: Windows NT Workstation or Server 3.51 or 4.0; Fax modem or fax board|