VSI’s VSI-Fax is a well known server-based fax system for many UNIX platforms as well as Windows NT. They have recently unveiled a Linux version, too, which we discuss here. The VSI-Fax server component sits on a server and can be accessed by any clients on the network. VSI-Fax allows faxing from practically any application, whether they are fax-enabled or not natively. One of the strengths of VSI-Fax has always been its scalability, from a single user up to any size network without requiring reinstallation of the package.
The VSI-Fax system is supplied on CD-ROM with binaries for most supported platforms. An activation key must be obtained from the company Web site or by phone to enable the evaluation or purchased versions of the software. Installing the software is simple: mount the CD-ROM and run an install script. The process takes a couple of minutes. After installation, the fax server is started and a quick test can be conducted to ensure the system is working well. On our three test machines it worked perfectly after the install.
VSI-Fax supports a good variety of fax modems, including practically every device you’ll find on a Linux or recent UNIX server. In addition, dedicated fax boards from major manufacturers are supported, but only under Windows NT.
We tested our copy of VSI-Fax on several Linux machines, two having internal modems and one an external modem. The primary test platform ran Caldera OpenLinux and included two internal fax modems, one dedicated to outbound traffic and one to inbound. Multiport serial cards can be used to host the modems for VSI-Fax, although there can be problems with modem control on some. VSI supplies a list of tested units. VSI-Fax includes a fax server administration routine, but it appears to run only under Windows NT.
If there’s a weak point to the VSI-Fax package, it is the documentation. It tends to be more Windows-oriented than UNIX or Linux. It can also be difficult to find information you want quickly. Just finding the installation routine took a few minutes of digging through 25 pages of the Getting Started manual. The index at the back of the Server manual points to pages that bear no relationship to the actual subject you’re looking for, which was frustrating for us.
On the VSI-Fax CD-ROM are several integration utilities for Windows, including a fax client for Outlook and a client for Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer. Neither of these clients work under emulation modes with the Linux setups we tried, but Windows clients on the same network could run them perfectly, relying on the Linux server to handle the faxing. You can access fax in and out boxes through any Web browser on the network simply by pointing the browser to the server’s address, which worked well from our Linux, Windows, and SCO UnixWare test clients. One notable component of the VSI-Fax system is the Software Developer’s Kit. The SDK can be used to allow integration with custom applications, as well as commercial packages that lack a fax interface.
The VSI-Fax system can be used from a command line, from an application, or from a GUI. The command line interface takes a little while to get used to, with a plethora of options and flags. Since the command line interface is not likely to be used by many people, we concentrated more on the fax enabling capabilities with applications like Corel Office Suite 8 for Linux and Star Office. For these, sending a fax was as easy as choosing a print device, then filling in the cover sheet details (if one is required). To receive faxes, you have to log in to the fax server using a login and password. We tried loading up the fax server on our network by submitting over 500 fax requests in an hour, all directed to an incoming modem port. VSI-Fax handled the two queues perfectly without dropping a single fax. Success at faxing the test pages from one modem to another was 98 percent (two percent had transmission errors and had to be resent). VSI-Fax performed well for us in our tests. The addition of Linux to the supported operating system list is attractive, but the price of the package will put of many potential users.
Summary: Server-based fax solution with very good application integration and web interfaces. Pricey, but powerful under Linux.