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Chapter 27. Fax

Fax, short for facsimile transmissions, gives the power of Star Trek's transporter system (usually without the aliens and pyrotechnics) to anyone who needs to get a document somewhere else in the world at the speed of light. Although fax doesn't quite dematerialize paper, it does move the images and information a document contains across continents and reconstructs them at the end of its near-instantaneous travels. The recipient gets to hold in his own hands a nearly exact duplicate of the original, the infamous reasonable facsimile.

From that angle, fax is a telecopieróa Xerox machine with a thousand miles of wire between where you slide the original in and the duplicate falls out. In fact, a product called the Telecopier was once offered by Xerox Corporation and was the progenitor of today's fax machines.

From a computer perspective, however, fax operates as a teleprinter rather than a telecopier, a printer that operates by remote control miles away from your computer. You create documents using Word or some other word-processing program and, instead of printing them on paper, send them half a world away. In fact, if you don't have a real printer installed in your computer, Windows assumes you'll use fax as your primary output system. You can imagine fax working like a 1200-mile printer cable.

For Windows, fax is just another way of printing. Just as the Windows GDI rasterizes images bound for laser printers, fax drivers (much like printer drivers) rasterize them for fax transmission. Windows, using fax drivers, calculates every dot that will appear on a sheet of paper and then sends them outóbut, instead of using the control code for a printer and the printer interface, Windows uses standardized fax codes and your telephone line.

At one time, computer-based fax was a hot new technology bound to change the world. Although the technology has cooledóor at least the excitement has died downócomputer-based fax remains alive and well, still carrying out its job, only now far from the limelight, hidden in the shadow of the Internet. Although manufacturers no longer need fax out datasheets when they are posted on the Web, contracts and updates to blueprints still need the fast, remote replication that only fax can provide. Although even a $500 computer is not cost competitive with a $50 standalone fax machine, no mere fax machine has the programmable features of a computer to handle mailing lists and get the word out with a fax blitz. Nor can a mere fax machine save and edit fax pages.

Fax and computers aren't just friendsóthey're coworkers. Together they expand the capabilities of both fax and computer technologies.

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