Fax it, scan it, print it: the computerized office becomes the integrated office. (text management software, computer printers, facsimile modem)(includes product list and related article on integration) (Hardware Review) (Evaluation)
by Mike Hudnall, Robert Bixby
What can you do if you have a very limited amount of space for your office? You don't have room for a scanner, a fax machine, and a printer. Which do you sacrifice? Or what if you're setting up an office for a temp? You need a whole range of office automation devices, but you don't have all week to shop around town for a computer, a printer, and so forth. Wouldn't it be great if you could have all of your peripherals in one small package?
This kind of thinking has led to the latest revolution in peripherals marketing: the integrated peripheral. And it only makes sense. After all, what is a fax machine but a scanner and a printer? The photocopier is another common device that contains a scanner and a printer. Some fax machines have a copy option that will print out a copy as if it were a fax.
Most fax machines aren't very good scanners or printers, to be sure, and most of them print on that funky fax paper that's about halfway between tissue paper and wax paper; but if you could get a really good scanner and a really good printer, you could reduce their resolution for sending and receiving faxes and increase their resolution for normal office work.
In this article we will cover a handful of exciting new products that shrink an entire office suite down to a desktop while improving on the products they replace through integration and computer software.
DDM Private Station
Multifunctional capabilities, document storage and management, and speed are just a few features that make the Alacrity Systems Desktop Document Manager Private Station (DDM) an attractive package. To use it, you need an 80386 or higher industry-standard-architecture PC or compatible, Microsoft Windows 3.1 or higher, MS-DOS 5.0 or higher,' 4MB of RAM, a hard drive with at least 16MB of free space, two available bus slots, and an appropriate printer (Hewlett-Packard LaserJet II or III, IBM 4019 or 4029 Laser-Printer, Canon LBP-8, Unisys 9000-series laser printer, Olivettie PG-404 laser printer). For $1,995, you get a 50-MHz image coprocessor, 6MB of image RAM expandable to 16MB, a 9600-bps send-and-receive fax modem, a scanner interface, a high-speed interface to your printer, and a collection of integrated Windows apps that let you access and organize your documents in a variety of ways. The optional Microtek MS-II scanner COMPUTE used with the DDM adds around $600 to the price of the system. The DDM also supports Hewlett-Packard scanners.
To put the DDM to the test, we installed it in COMPUTE's production department, where it sent and received documents (paper and electronic) without a hitch, kept a record of all fax transactions, copied documents, scanned documents for further reference (and compressed them to save space), and printed faxes and spreadsheets very quickly indeed. While optical character recognition wasn't really a factor in the daily activities of our production department, we tried the OCR software, which performed respectably. You can use data scanned by your DDM system in paint or desktop publishing programs, although these programs are not part of the DDM package.
Installation. Installing the DDM wasn't difficult. The manufacturer provides excellent installation instructions, as well as a checklist to make sure you cover all the bases. The controller card plugged into the computer, a raster interface card plugged into the LaserJet's auxiliary I/O port, and cables went from the computer to the raster interface, the telephone line, and the Microtek scanner. Additional steps could involve setting DIP switches for a different port address or modifying the raster interface card if you aren't using a Hewlett-Packard LaserJet. The limited length of the raster interface cable necessitated moving the LaserJet closer to the computer. As for the software, it installed easily, much as any Windows app, with the manual explaining choices along the way.
Documentation. The package includes four very good manuals: Installation & Getting Started, Scanning & Copying, Printing & Faxing, and DDM Viewer Optical Character Recognition. Each provides an overview, tells you what it will cover, covers the topic, and provides screen illustrations. Though the manuals lack indexes, the tables of contents, headings, and subheadings help a great deal. The Windows apps in the package include online help.
Ease of use. Just about anyone familiar with Windows should find this package easy to use. But even a user not familiar with Windows had no difficulty putting the system to work. Simply select the appropriate icon, choose from the options in the various dialog boxes, and, if need be, use the online help. The directories you build for fax destinations make sending a fax to an individual or a special group simple. No more queuing up to use a dedicated fax machine. You can fax from any Windows app simply by specifying the DDM fax system as your printer and clicking on the print button. The DDM keeps a record of your faxes for you. (Information about your faxing appears on the screen; unfortunately, there's no auditory feedback). Also, to simplify your access to documents you've stored on disk, the DDM software includes a finder utility with several search options.
Special capabilities. Thanks to the graphics coprocessor and the 6MB of image RAM, the DDM system works fast and in the background, whether printing, copying, scanning, or sending or receiving a fax. Alacrity Systems claims that printing from Windows apps can be accelerated by as much as 500 percent; fax transmission and reception with the DDM were surprisingly fast.
If your hard drive space is limited, you'll welcome the DDM's compression and decompression capabilities. According to the manufacturer, up to 500 pages of documents can be stored in 10MB of disk space using the DDM. This last point bears careful attention if much of your document processing and management involves paper rather than electronic files.
If you're into color, you should take a look at the Canon CJ10 color copier/scanner/printer ($6,995 for the copier, $2,700 for the IPU that turns it into a scanner/printer). If you've made color copies at a copy shop, odds are that you've seen the output of the Canon CJ10. It prints on special paper and doesn't allow two-sided printing. The unit scans and prints at 400 dpi, which results in a printout that is very close to photographic quality. To test the unit, we spent most of a weekend scanning in blurry, faded, yellowed photographs and cleaning them up with Aldus PhotoStyler, which is provided with the unit. By using PhotoStyler's sharpening routines and boosting the magenta and cyan in the scanned images, we were able to return most of them to their original clarity (and improve the appearance of all of them). Then, we blew the pictures up to fill the 8 1/2- x 11 -inch paper and printed them out into framable portraits that looked as if they had been created by a watercolor master (the images created don't have the sheen of photographs but rather the matte appearance of quality art paper).
Installation. The Canon CJ10 requires an IBM PC, Windows (because PhotoStyler is a Windows program), and at least 2MB of RAM. (A Macintosh version is also available.) Setting up the Canon CJ10 was a most complicated and intricate installation. First, the copier had to be set up. As you might expect, it is no simple device in itself. A screw and numerous tabs had to be removed to allow the scan head and printer heads to move freely. Then, the individual printheads had to be installed. Once the copier was ready, the interface device, called the IPU, had to be installed. The IPU is a metal rectangle about four inches high and slightly larger in area than the copier itself. It has indentations for the feet of the copier so the copier can sit on the IPU. A cable leads from the copier to the interface and from the interface to a SCSI adapter card, which has to be installed in the computer itself. Give yourself an afternoon to install this equipment--you'll need it. Finally, the software had to be installed under Windows (Aldus PhotoStyler, mentioned above).
Documentation. Strangely, the most difficult part of setting up the system was figuring out which side of the paper should face up in the paper tray. The manual says to put the whiter side up, but both sides of the paper were equally white. One side was more reflective than the other, so that side was turned upward. A dozen ruined printouts later (if you put the paper in wrong, the printer jams), the error became clear and the paper was turned over. Fortunately, this is an exception in a very detailed manual that was clearly written for people who normally try to avoid technology. It's full of troubleshooting tips and detailed instructions.
Ease of use. Is it possible for a computer peripheral to be too easy to use? It is when you can rapidly generate color printouts that cost about 47 cents apiece. When you have this kind of power at your fingertips, how can you rein in your creativity? Put a cigar box next to the printer and put in a couple of quarters each time you make a printout. Printing and scanning are so effortless that you'll have to keep reminding yourself that this is no toy.
Special capabilities. Although color fax might be a logical extension to this leviathan, Canon has no immediate plans to add that option. If you want to send color faxes to someone with a similar unit, you'll have to fax or modem a color graphics file, then have the person on the other end send the file to the printer to get a hardcopy.
PhotoStyler is excellent software incorporating all sorts of photographic tools and a large assortment of special effects. It nearly won a COMPUTE Choice Award a couple of years ago. (In heavy competition, it lost out to Picture Publisher.)
The Canon CJ10 color scanner also does an excellent job as a gray-scale scanner.
DOC*IT comes in two versions, the $3,299 300-dpi DOC*IT 3000 and the $3,799 400-dpi DOC*IT 4000. The unit reviewed for this article was the DOC*IT 4000. No larger or heavier than a standard desktop laser printer, the DOC*IT provides the full range of small office requirements. First, it's a laser printer that prints at a rate of eight pages per minute and supports both PCL 5, the page-description language used by Hewlett-Packard laser printers, and TrueImage, the Postscript emulation from Microsoft (standard on the 4000; the 3000 comes with PCL 4 and can be upgraded to PCL 5 and TrueImage). It can also function as a "walk-up" photocopier. The DOC*IT is set up as a sheet-fed scanner, which means that you feed sheets into it to copy them. However, the scanner is removable and can be used as a hand scanner for larger pages or for bound originals. The scanner allows the machine to operate as a 400-dpi sheet-fed or hand scanner. The software doesn't support gray-scale scanning, but if you have other software that supports gray-scale scanners (like Picture Publisher), you can access the DOC*IT as if it were a Hewlett-Packard ScanJet, and in this mode it can deliver up to 64 gray levels (Okidata technical support says that gray-scale capability will be added to the software in the future). Finally, the unit can function as a stand-alone fax machine capable of producing plain-paper faxes. The software can send either paper faxes or faxes generated by the software.
Is the DOC*IT overpriced? To answer that question, you must consider its advantages and the range of equipment it was designed to replace. (The street prices are expected to be much lower than the standard retail prices listed earlier-around $2,500 for the 3000 and $2,800 for the 4000.)
Installation. Although we approached the large, complex DOC*IT system with some trepidation, installation was no more difficult that installing a card and setting up a laser printer. The toner cartridge and fixer brush slipped easily into the machine. A power cable and a serial cable run from the machine to the full-length 16-bit card. A telephone line is attached to the card just as it would be to a modem. Unlike the connections on many modem cards, the input and output connections on the DOC*IT card are clearly marked. We installed the phone lines in serial with the modem and had no trouble using the modem and the fax machine in tandem on a single phone line (though not at the same time, of course). Then the software was installed under Windows.
The only problem with installation was that when it was completed, the scanner wouldn't work. A few minutes on the phone with technical support supplied the solution, and the problem (an address conflict) was resolved and the scanner was fully operational. As automated as the software installation was, we had to edit the CONFIG.SYS and SYSTEM.INI files manually to get the equipment to work. Okidata says that in the next software release, the installation system will make these alterations itself.
Documentation. The Windows DOC*IT software was intuitive enough that reference to a manual was unnecessary for installation or operation. However, there is a complete manual that covers each of the functions in full (it didn't cover the technical problem described above, however). There are some typos in the manual, perhaps evidence of the haste with which the product was brought to market.
Ease of use. The software makes use of an icon bar that reduces all of the functions of the machine to clicking on a button that has both an icon and text. For example, the button that runs the scanner has a picture of a scanner on it as well as the word Scan. The DOC*IT unit has four buttons--for scanning, copying, faxing, and printing--plus a telephone keypad for using the fax machine independently of the faxing software on the computer.
Special capabilities. The software allows you to scan in two pages, reduce and rotate them, and then print them side by side on a single sheet of paper. It will broadcast faxes and supports a telephone book and automatic cover page. If you are faxing to another DOC*IT, you can fax at the full resolution of the machine, though faxing to other machines is at standard 100 x 200 or fine 200 x 200 resolution.
The SatisFAXtion package from Intel takes multifunctionality a step beyond most fax/data modems on the market. If you're pleased with your computer and printer and would like to add scanning to fax/data modem capabilities, the SatisFAXtion is worth considering. With an 80286 or higher IBM compatible, DOS 3.0 or higher, at least 640K RAM and 4MB of disk space, and an appropriate graphics adapter (Hercules, CGA, EGA, MCGA, or VGA), you'll be ready to take advantage of this remarkable card.
The SatisFAXtion delivers great performance with a fax send and receive speed of 14,400 bps and, thanks to V.42bis data compression, modem data throughput of up to 57,600 bps. Compliance with the V.42 specification means that your transmissions are not only fast but reliable. In addition, Intel employs Smart UART (Universal Asynchronous Receiver/Transmitter) buffering to prevent high-speed data loss. Because this card dynamically monitors the quality of the phone connection, slowing down or speeding up according to line conditions, it's able to offer the best throughput possible while protecting your valuable data.
While a PC-based fax/data modem can improve your productivity, nobody likes the interruptions these devices can sometimes cause. Intel's solution is a coprocessor. The SatisFAXtion architecture provides an 80186 microprocessor, 512K of memory, and a custom gate array designed to manage the flow of data. Fax communication becomes largely a background task, smooth and transparent.
The SatisFAXtion Modem/400 package ($499) includes software for faxing directly from DOS apps. You also get a free copy of CROSSTALK Communicator software for data communications and an invitation to buy Intel's software for Windows: FAXability Plus ($79) or FAXability Plus/OCR ($249). If you plan to use this fax software, make sure you have at least 2MB of RAM and 6MB of available hard disk space.
For an additional $399, you can attach the Intel Hand Scanner, convenient for adding graphics into documents. It plugs into a Logitech-compatible gray-scale scanner port on the SatisFAXtion. Intel also sells three other versions of the SatisFAXtion board.
Installation. Hardware installation of the SatisFAXtion couldn't be simpler. Open your computer, ground yourself, handle the card carefully, and plug the card into an available bus slot. This unit features switchless automatic configuration, which means that you won't have to worry about jumpers or DIP switches. The installation manual spells out the installation very clearly and provides diagrams. The SatisFAXtion software and the FAXability Plus/OCR software also installed easily. Once the fax driver was chosen as the default printer, the SatisFAXtion was ready for business.
Documentation. In addition to the excellent Intel SatisFAXtion Modem/400 Installation Guide, you receive hardware and software manuals, a CROSSTALK Communicator manual, a pamphlet with recent news about the Modem/400 (updates, corrections, advice), a command reference card, and a directory of software you can use to increase productivity with the Modem/400. These are excellent manuals--thorough, indexed, and clearly written and illustrated--and Intel includes mail-back cards for you to offer criticism. If you need more help, it's available by phone, fax, BBS, CompuServe, and MCI Mail.
Ease of use. As with other Windows-based products examined here, the FAXability software is easy to use, due to its common user interface. In addition to a flashing icon with information about the progress of faxes, it has an in-box, an out-box, a phone book, and options for viewing, printing, forwarding, deleting, and rescheduling faxes. The OCR version allows you to convert faxes to editable text (which lets you save disk space, since text files are smaller than fax files). The DOS-based software that comes with the Modem/400 is also easy to use and can be installed as a TSR.
Special capabilities. The Modem/400 supports MR (Modified Read) encoding, which reduces connect time and phone costs an average of 25 percent, according to Intel. Most PC fax/data modems don't support MR. Because SatisFAXtion can recognize whether an incoming call is voice, fax, or data transmission, the Modem/400 allows you to use one phone line for all three purposes. In fact, Intel includes detailed instructions for setting up your phone and Modem/400 according to whether you use your line mostly for voice calls or mostly for fax calls. If your phone uses one ring pattern for one number and another ring pattern for another number, you can set the Modem/400 to pick up only for a particular ring.
Also available are what we've come to call "black boxes," which turn a printer into a plain-paper fax receiver. For example, Moonlight Computer Products (10211 Pacific Mesa Boulevard, San Diego, California 92121; 619-625-0300) sells a unit called the PrinterFAX, which plugs into the font cartridge slots in a Hewlett-Packard LaserJet. (It only receives faxes; to send a fax, you need to have a separate fax modem or fax/data modem in your computer.) Various printer makers are building this fax-receive capability into their machines. Hewlett-Packard, Compaq, and others are adding the option of plain-paper fax receiving to their laser printers.
Throughout the preparation of this feature, we awaited the arrival of a product that takes office integration still another step further--Digital Design's Gateware, a combination laser printer, scanner, fax, copier, and computer in a single unit. Unfortunately, the system never arrived.
If computerization was the revolution of the early 1980s and the home and mobile office were the revolutions of the late 1980s, then integration could well be the revolution of the early 1990s. Offices are moving into temporary rather than permanent quarters: homes, dorms, motel rooms, the backs of vans--wherever they will fit. And why should you give up the benefits of your office when you're away? Why not have a suitcase-size piece of equipment that can do everything?
The movement toward office integration hasn't reached that level--yet. None of the equipment covered here is portable, and you'd have a hard time getting it under an airline seat (or even in an overhead compartment). But we already have scanners, printers, and computers that can keep company in a single briefcase, Just as this was going to press, Canon demonstrated in our offices its integration of the famous BubbleJet printer and a laptop computer into a seven-pound computer with a 360-dpi printer inside for under $2,500. With it, you have the option of adding a 14,400-bps PCMCIA send-and-receive fax/data modem. It's only a small step from there to packing an entire office suite to travel with you.
Meanwhile, if you want to install an office quickly and inexpensively with integrated peripherals, you have several options. And even more exciting things are on the horizon.
Is Integration for You?
Just as there are good reasons to integrate, there are good reasons to leave well enough alone. For example, imagine that your laser printer breaks down. You can continue with your other work pretty much as normal until the repairs are made. If you have an integrated system, you might be out not only your laser printer but also your fax machine and your copier. Okidata says that its machine will continue functioning even if one component is down--but if that component needs to go into the shop for repairs, the entire system is gone.
Another problem arises when you want to swap equipment. Normally, when a person in an office needs temporary use of a laser printer, all you have to do is talk the burliest available worker into carrying it from one office to another (or wheel it on a desk chair or hand truck). With an integrated system, the printer is much more tied to the computer. Moving the equipment around also involves either shifting cards and installing software or moving the whole unit--computer and all--from room to room.
The final drawback is that integrated systems try to be all things to all people. If you have special needs, such as a higher-resolution scanner or a desktop typesetter, an integrated system will probably just get in the way.