For the past 5 years I’ve been a devoted fan of the HylaFax system. HylaFax uses a computer’s fax/modem to send and receive faxes; it’s the UNIX equivalent of something like WinFax on a Windows machine, but far more powerful.
Here’s how I’ve put HylaFax to use:
The Enhanced Farm Weather Forecast Program faxes detailed local weather forecasts to farm clients across Prince Edward Island early every morning during the crop season. The program is now in its 6th year. The first year of operation, a Windows-based solution for faxing was developed in-house, and was extremely problematic. For the past five years, a Linux-based system we installed has used HylaFax, and has proved rock-solid. We send out about 15,000 faxes a year, and we’ve never had a problem.
From a technical perspective, here’s what happens: every morning Environment Canada emails 5 weather forecasts to the server, each in a separate email, with the forecast as a MIME attachment. The forecasts are parsed out of the email, and then each forecast is faxed out to a list of subscribers for that local area. We created a web-based system to allow the subscriber list to be managed, and the fax queue to be monitored.
At Yankee Publishing, we use HylaFax to fax out proofs and invoices from an internal web-based Classified Advertising system. When a new proof or invoice needs to be sent, the web system calls a HylaFax client running locally to talk to a HylaFax server on another system about 200 miles away which, in turns, sends out the fax. Again, this system has proved useful and reliable.
Finally, we use HylaFax internally to send and receive faxes for Reinvented Inc. When you fax something to (902) 892-1513, you’re actually talking to an old Motorola Voice/Fax modem in our basement which, in turn, hands off the fax to HylaFax. We then use a fax-to-email gateway to send a PDF of the fax to our corporate email address for viewing and, if required, printing. To send faxes (which we do only rarely), we print from whatever application to a PostScript file, transfer this file to the server, and use the HylaFax client to send manually (there are Windows-based clients that do this automatically through a Windows printer driver, but, so far, nothing analgous for Mac OS X).
Over three HylaFax installs, we’ve found that the single most important choice to make is the fax/modem to use. There’s a lot of information on the HylaFax website, including a voluminous mailing list that’s searcable, that can help with this selection; in all three cases we’ve set up, we’ve used very cheap, generic external fax/modems that have costs less than $75, and each has proved up to the task.
HylaFax is one of those nice pieces of software that, once you install it, just works, year after year, fax after fax.