Communicado: Fax for the desktop
Merlin Software Technologies’ Communicado is designed to allow Linux systems to send, receive, and manage faxes from the desktop. Communicado is available in two versions: personal (for a single desktop) and enterprise (for a five user basic license). The two behave the same way differing only in user support.
Communicado runs under most versions of Linux, and requires either GNOME or KDE (or some other X environment). Communicado requires a minimum RAM complement of 32MB on the system, although more is recommended. Disk space requirements are lenient at 10MB. A modem capable of fax transmissions is required, of course. Wintel modems are not supported, and neither are any soft-set modems. Supported modems tend to be based on the Rockwell Class 2 chipset, although Merlin suggests most Class-2 compliant non-Wintel fax modems will work.
We tested Communicado on two systems, one equipped with RedHat 6.2 and the other with Mandrake 7.0. The software worked equally well under both environments, as well as under both KDE and GNOME. Our review version of Communicado was supplied on a CD-R with no accompanying documentation, obviously a pre-production version. However, we were assured the software was out of beta. Installation on a RedHat 6.2 system proceeded smoothly. Under GNOME, the RPM package manager launched the install routine, displaying a couple of progress bars on the screen. Afterwards, a printer configuration window appears, and after establishing basic modem parameters such as phone number and dialling prefixes, the Communicado system is ready. The configuration routine is simple and the entire installation and configuration procedure can be completed in five minutes.
Communicado integrates fax capabilities into existing applications. If you are running StarOffice or Corel WordPerfect Suite for Linux, the ability to send a fax comes through the Print option. Instead of selecting a physical printer, the fax device is chosen instead. This procedure will be familiar to anyone who has worked under Windows with software such as Symantec’s WinFax or similar software. The interface is intuitive and requires a minimal learning curve.
Faxes that have been sent or received can be viewed through a thumbnail viewer, and expanded if necessary. The fax inbox and outbox is easily managed, allowing you to save or delete faxes as necessary. For sending quick faxes, a neat feature is Quick Text Editor, which pops up an ASCII editor that allows for short, non-graphical faxes to be created in a few seconds and sent immediately, rather than go through the process of opening a word processor and going through the print routine. We found this feature wasn’t used often, but it was very handy when quick one or two line faxes have to be sent. Communicado includes a Quick Attach feature that allows any existing file (ASCII or supported formats) to be attached to a fax and sent.
Small touches like e-mail notification of fax transmission or receipt, an option to automatically print incoming faxes, priority levels, personal and public address books, call screening to ignore selected numbers, and fax forwarding all add to the attractiveness of Communicado. Multiple fax devices can be supported by a single installation of Communicado, allowing you to expand your fax capabilities on a single fax server machine if the need arises. The enterprise edition can be installed on multiple workstations and requires only a single engine on the network for support of all the clients.
The management routines built into Communicado are good. Not only can the fax devices be managed from under GNOME or KDE, but users and their abilities under the software can be specified. A client authentication scheme can be implemented to provide some measure of control over fax system users. Logging and accounting can be implemented to keep track of fax system usage. Fax broadcasting is supported, and can be controlled through the management software to prevent misuse.
One of the new features built into Communicado version 4.0 is multiple platform support. Clients under Windows and Solaris can all fax through a Linux workstation under the Enterprise release. This would allow administrators to establish a fax server for an entire workgroup or LAN using a low-powered PC and Communicado Enterprise. The cost of setting up such a server with left-over or redundant hardware would be minimal, making this an attractive solution.
We worked with Communicado for a week, replacing our usual Windows NT-based fax software with Merlin’s for that time. During the week, Communicado behaved perfectly causing no problems at all for the workstation’s Linux system or having any impact on suite software. Faxes arrived and were sent on demand, as expected, and after a day we forgot whether we were using a Linux-based system or our older Windows system. One of the attractive features of Communicado for a developer is the inclusion of an API for customization of applications. Although we didn’t play with the API during our testing, we could see the ease with which we could include fax capabilities in custom applications.
Communicado is a cost-effective and attractive fax solution for Linux-based systems. For a single workstation, it worked well. We didn’t try the Enterprise setup, but would imagine the same experience would apply. If you need a solid graphical fax package which integrates easily into office suites, check out Communicado.
Communicado Personal Edition $49.95
Communicado Enterprise Edition $199.95
Merlin Software Technologies International
4199 Lougheed Hwy
B.C. V5G 3Y6.
Summary: Inexpensive and talented fax solution for Linux workstations and entire LANs.