`Hey, Why Can't I Do That, Too?'

The way Maury Kauffman sees it, credit for the current boom in office PC faxing goes largely to Symantec Corp.'s Delrina Group. Kauffman, a consultant on faxing who runs the Cherry Hill (N.J.)-based Kauffman Group, reckons Delrina has shipped more than 12 million copies of its consumer-oriented WinFax software. Used with any fax-modem, it lets IBM-compatible PCs send and receive faxes. "Now," says Kaufmann, "every 16-year-old is sending faxes from his PC, and the parents go into the office and say, `Hey, why can't I do that, too?"'

They can, but they shouldn't trust serious business faxing to a mere PC-with-fax-modem setup. That's because with a fax modem--whether it costs $50 or $200--the PC's main processor quickly gets bogged down doing all the hard work. Even a costly Pentium-based machine may not be able to send or receive more than about two faxes at the same time. A lot of faxes will fail to go through if you have to rely on the PC's processor, says Peter Davidson, head of Davidson Consulting in Burbank, Calif. Plus, modems can't cope with the many incompatibilities that still lurk in fax communications, especially overseas.

What you need in the office, then, is more sophisticated fax-server hardware. Companies such as Brooktrout, PureData, and the GammaLink subsidiary of Dialogic produce fax boards that plug into IBM-compatible PCs and perform all sorts of tasks without taxing the machine's main processor. These boards sell for anywhere from about $750 to $4,000, depending on their processing power, modem speed, and the number of telephone lines they can service at one time.

You'll probably want to buy this gear through a professional, who can help you set up your fax server and connect it to the office network. The dealer that first installed your network is probably the best bet; fax servers are getting to be familiar items in the PC networking business. There's a wide range of fax software to choose from, but thanks to strong industry standards all varieties will work with just about all server boards. Suppliers of fax software, which is priced at around $800 per telephone line, include Nuntius, Ibex, and Copia.

If you're not yet running a network, a self-contained fax server may be worth looking into. There are several all-in-one fax-server packages coming on the market for small businesses. For instance, Brooktrout Technology Inc.'s QuadraFax, listing for $3,995, contains its own PC circuitry and can answer as many as 300 fax-on-demand calls a day. With a $595 software add-on, QuadraFax can broadcast personalized faxes to as many as 1,000 destinations. And PureData Ltd. in Richmond Hill, Ont., has a $1,400 server-board kit that it plans to sell through mail-order catalogs and the Internet Shopping Network, an electronic mall. Used with a $1,000 PC, this server can handle as many as 30 fax sessions an hour.

And remember: Once you've got a fax server installed, your 16-year-old will probably be asking, "Hey, why can't I do that, too?"

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