The Fax Facts


By Greg Raven
Volume 6 no. 2 (February 1988), page 17

If you are new to telecommunicating, the talk you have been hearing about the soon-to-be-released AppleFax modem is probably leaving you nonplussed. After all, lots of companies make modems … who cares if Apple makes one, too?

The Traditional Way

To answer that, let’s first look at what a fax (facsimile) machine is so we can better understand what the AppleFax modem will and won’t do.

The standard fax machine, as used by an estimated 10 percent of businesses around the world (2 million in the United States alone), allows users to transmit hard-copy versions of virtually anything that can be printed on a piece of paper. Internally it consists of a scanner, a photocopier, a modem, and a communications program.

To use the standard fax, an original (the document you wish to have sent) is inserted into the machine. The phone number of the remote fax machine is called and after the two machines establish contact, the originating machine scans the document and sends a facsimile of what it sees to the remote machine at 9600 Baud. The remote machine translates this information to its internal printer and produces a copy of the original for the receiver. Because this happens at the speed of a phone call, there is no need for courier services, etc. And because the transaction takes place over the phone, the cost is the same as that of a phone call of equal duration.

There is a need for a fax machine, however, which is typically rented or leased. Wouldn’t it be nice if, since we already have a computer on our desks, to be able to tap into this network and send documents directly from our Macintoshes? You bet it would.

The AppleFax Way

In fact, the AppleFax has the possibility to work even better than a traditionally fax in that the quality of the original document can be much higher. Where the fax has to scan in the document, the AppleFax will usually be sending documents the computer has created. Therefore there are no scanning errors. Anything that can be word processed, spread sheeted, drawn, painted, or desktop published could serve as picture perfect input for an AppleFax transmission. To the user, send a fax via AppleFax will be the same as sending a file to the printer.

Coming back the other way, the Macintosh already handles printing of bit-mapped images, so no matter what comes over the wire, the Mac is ready to print it. As with every other printing tasks, a LaserWriter would give you better resolution but an ImageWriter should function adequately for most uses. Either way, Apple Computer has a golden opportunity here to improve the quality of received fax documents. Currently, most fax documents resemble photocopies made back in the days before plain-paper copiers became so prevalent (and so good).

Future Fax

So far so good. But as Macintosh owners we are just a little spoiled. Wouldn’t it be nice if, instead of merely printing out the fax transmissions we receive, the AppleFax software would be able to discriminate between graphics and text, and using optical character recognition (OCR) create a word processing file that could be rewritten, spell-checked, and otherwise massaged and then sent back, printed out, or included in another document? (Say, “Yes!”) Another nicety would be if AppleFax will conduct its business in the background, so you could send and receive while working on something else.

Until we actually see an AppleFax (which has been announced but not delivered) the only things we have to go on are the rumors we have been hearing. However, even without OCR the AppleFax modem will increase the Macintosh’s connectivity … and from reading the industry papers, connectivity is going to be what it is all about.

Who Needs It?

If you are not currently using a fax machine and and not thinking of going into a business for which facsimile transmissions would be helpful, the AppleFax modem is probably not for you. It is doubtful that the AppleFax modem will double as a “regular” modem that would allow you to call the LAMG BBS during those times when you didn’t need to communicate via telefax, so most non-business users will still be better off with a normal Hayes-compatible modem. However, the projections are that the number of businesses using one form of fax or another (regular fax machines, add-in fax cards for the IBM world, or AppleFax modems) will increase to 30 percent by 1990. So if one day you wake up and suddenly without warning everybody you know has a fax machine, you and your AppleFax modem will be right in the swing of things.