Tech Talk 2

Some technologies come and go; other technologies never seem to die, even if they have become obsolete — like facsimile (fax) machines.
Faxes are the vampires of the modern office. Someone should drive a stake through them. Their quality is terrible and degenerates with every retransmission, making them a nightmare to read. They tie up phone lines. And they waste paper and ink, because the dumb things print out everything that comes in.
Why do fax machines hang around to haunt the rural builder office? Well, there is the illusion that they are simple to use, quick and convenient. Everyone is used to them. The secretary (and maybe the boss, too) can run them. If the page has handwriting, such as a signature, no problem. Just feed in the sheet and – presto! – whatever is on the original appears in the fax machine of the recipient.
Well, if they won’t die (yet), you can make the most of them with a device called an All-In-One (AIO), or Multi-Function Printer (MFP). Amazingly, it took years for manufacturers to realize that the technology to run a copy machine is the same as the technology to run a printer that has a lot in common with the technology to run a fax machine. The realization gave birth to a single machine that can copy, print from a computer and fax. Most also can scan.
Early versions of the All-In-One often were deficient in one or more of those functions. Today, the machines do all four quite well, albeit with compromises in features (such as color) and functionality (such as size and speed) to keep costs down. Leading manufacturers include Hewlett-Packard, Konica, Dell and Brother. Prices generally range from $250 to $750.
Two features that all but the smallest offices will find useful are a network connection, which permits sharing, and an automatic document feeder (ADF), which handles multipage documents. Another useful feature is duplexing, which lets you scan and print both sides of a page. T

There’s a better way
OK, so your All-In-One will let you fax with it. But should you? No. But if you must fax, consider faxing from your computer through your AIO, not directly from the AIO. Skipping the intermediate step of printing your document will save paper and time and avoid the inevitable degradation of quality.
But here’s a better way: It’s called digital sending or scanning to e-mail. Digital sending substitutes scanning for faxing. The resolution is higher and transmission is by e-mail, which by now probably is at least as familiar to the office staff as faxing. Just scan the document and send it to any computer on your network. Open your favorite e-mail program and attach the document file. If it needs a signature, write the name on a piece of paper, scan it, save the scanned image as a digital file, copy it and paste it into the document where it is required.
Still better: Some All-In-Ones will send the e-mail itself, without going through a computer. The quality is visibly better than a standard fax and will not degrade as the document gets passed back and forth. Be aware that some digital senders will not work unless you have an e-mail server of your own.
As a bonus, some All-In-Ones will route incoming faxes to a computer where you can view them and decide whether they merit being printed. Other benefits include the ability to work with Acrobat files in Portable Document File (PDF) format. The intent, after all, is to send an image, not an editable file. If you want to send an editable file, just create the document in Word (or whatever format) and attach it to the e-mail message.
Forms, handwriting or drawings are no more a problem for a scanner than for a fax machine. In fact, that’s what a fax machine really is: a very low-resolution scanner.
Even though they are obsolete, faxes probably will hang around because it doesn’t cost much to add the capability to an All-In-One device. You could get more value from a scanner costing $100, but you’d still need a printer and a copier, and small offices like the convenience of a single, if bulky, machine that can do it all.
Kodak is one of the few manufacturers who think small offices might be weaned away from their fax machines. It has introduced two new All-In-One products, the EasyShare 5100, priced at $130, and the 5300, priced at $200. The more expensive model adds color and two USB ports for printing photos directly from a thumb (jump) drive or a digital camera. Both models print, copy and scan. What they don’t do is fax. For that capability, Kodak offers the EasyShare 5500 for $300. It claims a cost as low as 10 cents to print 4×6-inch color photos – about half the typical cost.

Oliver Witte teaches journalism at Southern Illinois University. The founding editor of AIA’s Architecture Technology magazine, he managed the computer-aided architectural evaluation program for Architecture magazine for several years. Contact him at

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