WinFax Pro 9

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, August 2002
Published by: Symantec Corporation
Requires: Pentium processor, Windows 95, 98, 95, NT or later, 32MB RAM, 57MB free hard disk space, fax modem (Class 1, 2 or 2.0) CAS compatible or fax capable CAPI 2.0 ISDN board
MSRP: US$99.00 (Ed Note: Winfax 10 is currently available)

The old Delrina Corporation created a vast horde of PC fax users. It's widely used software, WinFax Pro, contained all of the features and functions any faxer could possibly want. The more people demanded, the more Delrina put into the software. But in the end (after Delrina was acquired by Symantec), there remained a few more things which could be shoved into the already powerful package—hence versions 7, 8 & 9. Whither thou goest, so shall we follow (or words to that effect say the hordes of loyal users), and version 9 has been wildly popular, particularly in light of the broken and odd faxing that Microsoft has built into Windows.

Under the covers, WinFax Pro v9 is a lot different from v8. The user interface (UI) hasn't changed much, which is too bad considering the non-intuitive UI legacy from the late '90s left behind by Delrina. But new features and improvements abound in v9; you just have to look for them. There's now a fax preview window with thumbnail views, high resolution fax transmission (laser quality as Symantec calls it), send preview integrated into the Message Manager so you can get a final look at the fax layout just before sending it (which is very handy when you've gathered half a dozen faxes to send and can't remember which one is which). Fax Sharing is essentially a beefed-up network fax function which allows anyone (with permissions) on a network to send documents for faxing to another PC with a connected modem running WinFax Pro.

We installed WinFax Pro on four computers (to gather some sort of information about compatibility) but did the main testing and review on a Pentium III/333 with 512MB RAM running Windows 2000 Professional. We had installation problems on two of the four PCs, but eventually got three out of four installs. We called Symantec's telephone tech support and stumped them on the fourth machine, which is not a good sign (see "Cons" below).

WinFax Pro 9 is much more customizable than previous releases. Aside from the different views you can get in Message Manager (a central module from which you can do basically everything), the most useful feature for some offices may be the cover page designer that's built into the software. You can access the cover page designer from the menus or its own module. The layout functions work well and although it's absolutely not a full-blown page layout utility, it's still reasonably versatile, with functions to add graphics, signatures, setup lines, boxes and almost anything needed to accurately reflect the look & feel you want to convey with your cover page.

If you're broadcasting faxes, sending a single fax to a small group, or if you have to send faxes long distance (at long distance phone rates of course) the Delivery button has a number of cost saving/reducing choices including Send Now, Send During Off Peak Periods and Hold in Out Box. You can also set a specific schedule for document transmission.

For most home users—faxing something once every few weeks, for example—a software fax may be a far better solution than the expense and space requirements of a hardware fax machine. On the other hand, do you really want to spend a hundred dollars on something you're not going to use very often? The local post office, local photocopy or print shop, your nearest office supply store and maybe even your neighborhood convenience store all have fax machines you can use for very little cost.

For small businesses on a budget, the choice between a PC-based fax solution, and a hardware fax machine (and the desk space it uses) is often easy to make. As long as WinFax costs less than an equivalent hardware fax machine, it might be a better choice for your small office or business. You don't have to get up from your desk and walk over to the fax machine to send a document. On the other hand, if you're using WinFax Pro for all your fax needs, you had better remember to do regular and thorough backups of all sent, received and failed faxes. As with any other digital solution, a fax which disappears when your hard drive crashes (and it will crash, make no mistake about it), might as well be a fax that wasn't sent.

For small businesses that have larger volume fax needs (20 faxes per day or more sent from different PCs on the network) or which have to regularly fax large documents (25 pages or more), WinFax Pro will definitely slow down the networked PC on which it's installed. That will create a problem for the person using the PC for other tasks. So WinFax Pro has its limits as a full replacement for a hardware fax machine. A judicious review of your daily and weekly fax volumes however, will help you decide what's best. Once again, for many small businesses, WinFax Pro is a perfectly good choice.

Cons: The central Message Manager, which is the starting point for most fax jobs in WinFax Pro, is not the most intuitive module on the block. In fact, entering new contacts can be downright confusing until you understand Symantec's off-beat approach to workflow. The initial program installation adds WinFax to the Windows Startup folder without asking, which on some systems will slow cold boots and reboots to a crawl—not a good idea, and Symantec should change this default immediately and provide people with a choice. The UI design paradigm is non-standard. In their efforts to make WinFax a definitively non-Microsoft looking product, Delrina and Symantec succeeded in also creating something that is less intuitively usable than it should be. There are several functional problems (read: bugs) that should be addressed including addresses input into the contact list which simply aren't saved, failure to detect standard and popular modems during installation, and a host of other irritants. We had problems with two installations, and one of the computers (Pentium III/600, 512MB RAM, 3COM/USR fax modem, Windows 2000 Professional) will not accept an installation of WinFax Pro 9—the installer simply fails midway through the process. Frustrating, and Symantec's tech support could not solve the problem. Reporting functions still leave a lot to be desired, and I'd like to see a lot more detail especially about fax jobs sent from other computers on a network. In the U.S. and Canada, there are a number of idiocies with respect to telephone number and area code assignments that have been perpetrated by the Telcos in recent years including split area codes, access codes for discount services that must be pre-dialed, and so on. WinFax Pro does not yet accommodate any of it. Maybe in version 9.5 or 10? A couple of problems occurred when two network users accessed the main WinFax Pro PC simultaneously; occasionally one of the faxes wasn't queued properly and was not sent for several hours. The problem did not occur consistently and we could not reproduce it at will.

Pros: Fax forwarding, pager/phone notification about received faxes works well. Broadcast faxing to a large contact list (350 numbers), worked well, although I'd like more detail in the subsequent printed report. Built-in OCR like all office fax software, but WinFax lets you save a fax as plain text, Word format, WordPerfect, Microsoft Write, Excel, Lotus 123, rich text format (RTF), or as a postscript file. The program is extremely powerful—a complete document communications center—with only some minor usability humps. Remote and network faxing works well. Documentation is thorough enough for even complete novices. E-mail is coming on strong for many of the same purposes as hard copy faxing, but WinFax Pro sill has a prominent place in any office that wants to take an incremental step towards reducing paper costs and improving efficiency. There can be some installation woes with this product, but overall it's recommended.

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