WinFax Pro 10

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, October 2005, updated Feb 2007
Published by: Symantec Corporation
Requires: Pentium 233MHz CPU or faster; Windows 95b through XP (note that NT/2000 server are not supported); 128MB RAM, 57MB free hard disk space; Class 1, Class 2, Class 2.0, or CAS-compatible fax modem or fax-capable CAPI 2.0/G3 ISDN board, if network operation is required it must be configured for TCP/IP protocols with DCOM 1.3+ MSRP: US$99.00

Some products reach a position of preeminence which is so clearly dominant that the product developers have no reason to make any fundamental changes or indeed even fix existing bugs. Symantec is in such a position with WinFax Pro 1o. The product has changed very little in almost 8 years and it's been around, dominating the market since the early 1990s. Now however, longtime (and long suffering) WinFax Pro 9 users can look forward to upgrading to a new user interface and many more powerful features. New versions of WinFax Pro are few and far between, so it's not surprising that a lot of people are still using version 9 simply because they've forgotten to check periodically for an update. In any event, version 10 has been available for quite a while and we decided to upgrade our own office to see just how much work Symantec has done on this thing over the past few years. We also wanted to see if desktop faxing still has a place alongside sophisticated e-mail information exchange.

Symantec has provided some much needed updating of WinFax Pro in five key areas: user interface, integration with Outlook, desktop integration, activity reporting, and junk fax handling. Detection of and compatibility with a wider variety of address books is also helpful and still includes Act!, Outlook, Outlook Express, Eudora and a few others. I was generally pleased with the range of address books that WinFax handled but surprised at some serious omissions including Maximizer of all things, one of the most popular information managers available.


The initial foray into this review took quite a bit of time—two full days in fact. The reason was that we could not wheedle, cajole, persuade or otherwise convince v10.03 install on three of the five PCs we tried. The situation was curious indeed, all the more so considering that all five PCs are bog-plain Pentium 4 machines (2.4-3.2GHz CPUs) with 1GB of RAM each, nVidia or ATI video cards, lots of hard drive space, and a range of modems (WinModem, USR, Aopen, 3COM) and Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) except for one SP1 machine. Not surprisingly, the SP1 machine handed us the quickest, smoothest installation. Two successful installations out of five attempts is not quite the result we were expecting.

After finally getting the software installed, there was no question that Symantec had my attention, so I decided to do some relative speed tests of the general program using its default configuration on a 3.2GHz Pentium. I wasn't thrilled by the results—I wasn't disappointed by the results. The truth is, from a purely subjective viewpoint, the user interface and program responses (including accessing and negotiating with an installed modem) are essentially identical to the responsiveness in version 9; that is to say, slow-ish. WinFax Pro 10 looks and feels like a big, lumbering bear.

I used WinFax Pro 10 for approximately 5 weeks, faxing over 50 documents from both Word 2000 and Word 2003, Excel 2000, and several other programs. I also composed a number of faxes within WinFax itself. I did one brochure fax broadcast to a specific list (210 contacts) in order to update a service price list. The software worked flawlessly and the subsequent job report generated by WinFax was neatly laid out and relatively easy to understand. The majority of the faxing I do is 2-10 pages at a time to one recipient. For this, WinFax also works well, although the majority of the program's features sit idle the majority of the time. Composing a document in Word or Excel and dropping it on the WinFax Depot icon on the desktop is pure simplicity—the Message Manager pops up with your default fax cover page. All you have to do then is either type in the recipient's name and fax number or grab a contact from the list. Click send and the rest is done.

Once this review was completed and submitted for editorial review, my desktop fax activity dropped like a stone. I realized that my WinFax Pro 10 activities were uncharacteristic of my normal office communication methods. In fact, I use e-mail for the majority of my business-to-business communications these days, preferring to send and receive locked, digitally signed documents. What that means for the future of software like WinFax Pro is fairly easy to predict. On the other hand, my business partner continues to wage war against excess e-mail loads and prefers document faxing. Kickstartnews Contributing Editor Lianne Reitter uses WinFax Pro 10 almost every day to fax from her desktop—she loves the convenience and has few problems with the software.

Cons: Symantec is still using their own installer rather than conforming to the Windows XP installer routine. Symantec's installer still hooks very deeply indeed into your computer, as is typical with most of Symantec's products. If you ever want to get rid of WinFax Pro 10, you'll have a somewhat easier time of it compared to getting rid of Symantec's SystemWorks or Norton Internet Security, although that's still not much of a recommendation. We experienced horrible problems installing on two of the five Windows XP machines we tried, and note that we had to try five different computers in two different locations just to get two reliable installations (which leads us to suggest to Symantec that it might want to get onside with that aforementioned Windows XP installer). Call discrimination (fax vs. phone) simply would not work on one of the two 'successful' installations, despite several attempts with Symantec's telephone technical support to help straighten things out. One tech support person told us that "call discrimination might not be properly supported under Windows XP." Maybe so, but that's not what it says on the product box. Symantec's installation instructions stating that all running applications and programs should be closed before attempting to install WinFax Pro are not idle chatter. Do it. Shut down every program running on your desktop including everything in the Windows System Tray. Shut down your antivirus software, HotSync, ActiveSync, ZoneAlarm (or any other firewall including Microsoft's), anti-spyware software, background Outlook (press Ctrl+Alt+Del to open the Task Manager and end any offending processes), etc., etc., etc. Fail to do this and bad things can happen during the WinFax Pro 10 installation. If you're a home/home-office user sharing a phone/fax line with your high speed DSL Internet service, we can't recommend WinFax Pro 10. If Symantec doesn't fix the unusually large number of problems in WinFax Pro, it's going to drive many more people to fully extend the use of e-mail as a more reliable and versatile method of transmitting and receiving business documents. With more and more network copiers and printers beginning to incorporate reliable fax modules, it might be that WinFax Pro's days are truly numbered. Symantec's vast WinFax Pro user base includes a noticeably vocal and populous group that continues to register loud complaints about what they feel are an unusual number of installation and compatibility problems with the software. My personal experience with WinFax Pro during the review period was not pleasant.

Pros: Drag & drop documents onto the WinFax Depot icon on the desktop for either queuing or automatic instant faxing. Full integration with the Outlook toolbar provides access to sent & received faxes, the WinFax user interface and most major features of the software. Handling of split area codes and other telecommunications messes in Canada and the U.S. in particular is now much improved—much less (if any at all) manual number input because of weird access combinations—with options to set up unusual calling requirements in the contact manager. Printed fax output from v10 is improved—not quite the crisp, laser quality of typical printed output from your favorite word processor, but still very good especially considering the variable quality of received faxes. Poor reporting features in previous versions have been improved to provide what amounts to a versatile, business-like reporting function, making it easier to keep track of fax activity, who's sending what to whom, associated costs and general communications. Useful junk fax screening which uses Caller ID and CSID to augment number blocking. If you can get it installed properly under Windows XP SP2, WinFax Pro 10 is a worthwhile upgrade with lots of valuable improvements. Recommended (just).




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