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New Technologies

Using a Fax Board on a Personal Computer

"Just the fax, ma'am." This joke, derived from the old TV show "Dragnet," indicates the use of telefacsimile for everything from technical diagrams to deli orders is becoming almost as commonplace as using a telephone. And almost as easy, for in using most machines -- even from discount stores -- one sticks in text, dials a number, and pushes a button.

Libraries have used fax machines, in one form or another, for a number of years in interlibrary loan. Many of these early library experiments with fax were abandoned because of problems with the first generation of machines: special and costly thermal paper, inability to transmit photographs satisfactorily, slow speed, and high equipment and personnel costs.

A new generation called Group 3 machines has microprocessors that enhance reception and operation and that batch send and receive during periods when telephone costs are lower.

This new generation has revitalized library interest in fax technology. For example, the University of Wisconsin-Madison has received a Title II-D Library Technology Grant for telefacsimile transmission among libraries in the state to provide for more efficient sharing of information and library resources.

Another possibility has emerged with the development of fax boards that can be installed and used from within a microcomputer. As with stand-alone fax machines, the first ones were slow and cumbersome and neither particularly well reviewed nor received. A second generation with more features and capabilities offers a lot of promise, but not without some attendant problems.

The Title II-D Fax Project

As part of a determination of its usefulness to the Title II-D project and interaction with the Group 3 machines, a fax board was acquired. Since it was the first in the library system and comparable librarian experiences were lacking, I focused on:

* Speed: It had to be able to send at 9600 bps.

* Background operation: Since it was being used on a micro that was in almost constant use for other operations, such as searching the online catalog, it had to be able to receive fax simultaneously.

* Ability to send fax from within an application


* Reproduction quality, particularly photographs

* Ease of use

Many fax board reviews were of the "Yes, but" variety; they could see potential, but also obstacles to overcome. The board I eventually selected was the Quadram JT-Fax 9600. Since then, the Quadram fax board has become part of Hayes Microcomputer Products and is now known as the Hayes JT Fax 9600B. It seemed to offer all of the features needed and could be available at a street discount price that was within budget.

Other possibilities seriously considered were the Intel Connection CoProcessor, which offers potential for the evolution of a fax standard that could be applied across machines, and the Complete Fax/9600, because of its price.

But the standard had not yet been implemented and the differences in price turned out not to be significant. The deciding factors were ease of use and (important locally since WordPerfect is used heavily) the promise that the JT 9600B would include a driver that would make it possible to send fax copies from within WordPerfect.

Installation Dilemmas

Together with Steve Daggett from the library's automation help desk, we installed a fax board in an AT-class 80286 microcomputer. That installation took much longer than anticipated because it was necessary to work around impediments related to the microcomputers used to run the board. The first micro lacked a slot to accommodate the new board; the final slot was occupied by an option board, described in a previous column, to make use of Macintosh output.

The micro in which it was eventually installed had a slot, but not enough serial ports for a modem, a Microsoft mouse for use with a scanner, and a direct connection to an adjacent Macintosh. This problem was overcome by the simple use of switch boxes for both computer and telecommunications lines.

The lack of slots caused me to wonder whether the new generations of micros -- both the Macs (the new IIcx, the compact version of the MAc IIx) and some of the IBM PS/2 models that have only three slots -- will be sufficient for library operations that require a variety of information formats and therefore input sources.

Although the Mac IIcx and the PS/2 series have a lot of the input/output functions (a mouse connection, serial and parallel ports as well as others that vary by machine) built into the motherboard, anticipated library operations in the future need to be considered.

I'm told that the average personal micro owner uses up about 2.5 slots, which probably gave rise to the three slots in the micros mentioned above. For libraries or librarians that plan to move into multimedia, multiformat information management, that figure may be unreliable.

Running the JT Fax 9600B

With the board tucked into the micro and what now seemed to be a thousand wires emerging from the back, running the installation program was a breeze. The manual provides information as to the implications of each choice on the menu-driven installation program in advance of running the program. (One suggestion: use the option to turn off line noise at carrier detect, for it can be quite irritating otherwise; the only difficulty then is knowing when a fax is being sent.)

After installation, just changing to the Fax directory and typing "Fax" makes the program memory-resident, so it is available by using a hot-key, the default being Alt-F. If it doesn't send or receive many faxes, it can be run as needed to avoid consuming memory.

I have not tested conflicts with other memory-resident programs comprehensively, but I have encountered no difficulties running a word processing program (other than a conflict with an already defined Alt-F macro, which was easily resolved) or other applications, including a terminal emulation board that almost invariably causes difficulties with new hardware.

Sending and Receiving the First Fax

In testing the fax board, I sent and received copies from both an older and a Group 3 machine in the same building. Learning the menu-driven operation for sending a fax went very quickly. Although the first attempt failed, subsequent tries -- which included a photograph, a printed page from a Japanese diary, and a handwritten note -- went smoothly.

As expected, the older fax machine received poorly, but it was able to send materials adequately; the Group 3 machine worked well for both sending and receiving. In quality, sending from the fax board to Group 3 was comparable to sending between two Group 3 machines.

In order to send faxes, other than those texts created within a microcomputer itself, it is necessary to have a scanner. The Hewlett-Packard Scanjet I tried worked very well and easily. Since the menu of the JT 9600 includes a scanner option, I moved the light bar to it and tapped Return. The menu then prompted me to insert the document in the scanner and the board did the rest.

The Japanese text, even though printed poorly, was as clear and legible as the original when received in a Group 3 machine. The photograph was legible, but not of the quality that could be used for such applications as the printing of photographs of biological specimens, where the detail has to be superb in order to be worthwhile.

The first fax I sent back to myself was a brief, handwritten note. I expected to be able to display it on the screen, but the availability of a driver in the software for a Proprinter also made it possible to print it, albeit very slowly.

Using the "demonstration mode" it is also possible to run the software on a machine lacking the fax board itself. I copied the file and tried this demo mode on an 80386 micro hooked to a Hewlett-Packard Series II laser printer. It also printed the same note more clearly and somewhat more quickly. The slow printing of the bit-mapped fax images could be a disadvantage, since it ties up a lot of equipment.

Other Information Goals

While the fax board worked very well, there are other factors to consider. The need for a scanner and laser printer to send copies of printed materials and to print received materials adequately suggests that a stand-alone fax machine might be worth considering as an alternative if fax is the main goal.

If one loos at the board as part of an information system, also important is the fact that the received fax copies are bit-mapped images that cannot then be loaded, without the use of utility conversion programs, into a word processor or a database. Also because they are images, they print or scroll across the screen very slowly, even in a fast micro.

Therefore, while this technology has a great deal of promise, it needs to be looked at carefully. But if a conversion program does make it possible to load fax-captured text and images into database programs or to make them part of text and image management systems, then this board, when linked to a scanner and laser printer, can significantly enhance librarians' information capabilities.


There are several useful references to consult when considering telefacsimile:

Anand, Havelin. "Interlibrary Loan and Document Delivery Using Telefacsimile Transmission: Part 1. Preliminary Study." The Electric Library 5, no. 1 (Feb. 1987): 28-33.

Boss, Richard W., and Hal Espo. "The Use of Telefacsimile in Libraries." Library Hi Tech 5, no. 1 (Sept. 1987): 33-42.

British Library, Research and Development Department. Facsimile in Libraries Project, Parts 1 and 2. London: British Library, 1986.

Brown, S.A., comp. Final Report of the National Agricultural Library Telefacsimile Evaluation Project. Beltsville, MD: National Agriculture Library, 1986.

"Fax!" American Libraries 19, no. 1 (Jan. 1988): 57-64 (a compilation of five brief articles).

"Getting the Fax." PC Magazine 7, no. 12 (Jun 28, 1988): 167-208 (reviews products and provides information on fax in general and is updated as "PC to Paper: Fax Grows Up." PC Magazine 8, no. 7 (April 11, 1989): 94-144).

Jackson, Mary E. "Facsimile Transmission: The Next Generatoin of Document Delivery." Wilson Library Bulletin 62, no. 9 (May 1988): 37-43.

National Technical Information Service. Facsimile Communication, January 1984-March 1988. Springfield: NTIS, 1988.

O'Malley, Christopher. "What's New In Scanning." Personal Computing 13, no. 3 (Mar. 1989): 103-110 (includes basic information on such topics as gray scales and their meaning in fax transmissions).

Tedd, Lucy A. Facsimile in Libraries Project. London: British Library 1987.

Erwin K. Welsch is the associate director for research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison General Library System.
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Title Annotation:fax machines and microcomputers in libraries
Author:Welsch, Erwin K.
Publication:Computers in Libraries
Date:Nov 1, 1989
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