No, no, the killer app is to envision it the other way around: Fax-as-EMAIL
terminal. Think of your Fax machine as a way to recieve email from the
masses. It's a way for *clients* to send *mime* mail to a non-net-savvy
owner of a fax machine. This way I *can* send a multimedia burrito order to
the deli, but the deli only has to rip the printout off the output tray and
Now, if it did OCR back, so the burrito-order-confirmation popped back out
as *text* mail back to me, that would be cool...
So, think about it: Fax machines as the poor man's email presence on the
December 2, 1996
Fax machines on the Internet? Panasonic has it right now
Every time I fantasize in this column about some new technology that will
be available "in a few years," someone sends me a message within a few
weeks saying they've got that technology now.
The latest example is a column I wrote on Oct. 7, with a follow-up on Oct.
28, describing various services to send faxes via the Internet, reducing
long-distance (long lines) charges. I remarked that such services still
needed to use slow local lines to make the final link to the receiving fax
machine. Fax machines don't exist yet that can plug in to a LAN as a
network node, entirely eliminating the need for any phone connection.
As it turns out, such fax machines are close at hand. Panasonic is working
on a multifunction fax machine that happily hangs off a network. The first
may arrive early in 1997. I was given a demonstration by Ritsuo Shirahama,
manager of global affairs for Panasonic's Engineering Research Laboratory
At the current state of development, Panasonic's prototype fax machines
support both an RJ-11 jack, to plug in a regular phone line, and an RJ-45,
to plug in a 10Base-T LAN. The fax machine can receive faxes from either
port, depending on whether a fax is sent to it by phone or e-mail.
To send a fax by e-mail, a Windows user (for example), changes his or her
printer driver to Panafax. The driver converts output from any Windows
application into a compressed .TIF file. The driver asks you for an e-mail
address (such as firstname.lastname@example.org), you click on Send Fax, and off it
Unlike a fax sent through long lines, a fax sent as e-mail is not limited
to the usual 9.6Kbps or 14.4Kbps supported by most fax modems. The fax is
transmitted from the sending company's LAN through the Internet and into
the receiving company's LAN at the highest speeds of those links. And, of
course, there is no long-distance cost, except the monthly cost of your
Panasonic marketing executives wouldn't speculate on the list price or ship
date of such a machine. There's no literature for this product yet, but you
could send e-mail to Shirahama at email@example.com.
I believe we will see more of these products using the 'net rather than the
switched telephone network. These products raise the question: Why not just
use e-mail attachments for all documents, instead of using fax output? The
answer is that there are many situations in which setting up (and paying to
maintain) a full-blown PC is overkill.
My first use of fax technology, for instance, was in 1984, when I was an IS
manager for a Manhattan banking firm. A nearby deli installed a fax machine
and allowed customers to place lunch orders for take-out food by
transmitting a filled-in order form. At that time, the service was novel,
and this deli immediately got all our business. Did the deli need to get a
PC, download e-mail, print out orders, and route them to the appropriate
cook? No. Each cook simply picked up faxes as they came in -- a completely
appropriate level of technology for them.
A more serious question arises over the exploding use of Internet bandwidth
for voice, fax, and data transmissions. Software and hardware to make
long-distance phone calls via the 'net (again, incurring no long lines
charges) are growing rapidly in popularity. Why use long lines for anything
when Internet service costs $19.95 per month for unlimited service? I'll
examine the forthcoming "meltdown of the Internet" next week.
Brian Livingston is the co-author of Windows 95 Secrets Gold and four other
Windows books (IDG Books). Send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org or
fax: (206) 282-1248.