TMCnet - World's Largest Communications and Technology Community




Product Reviews
June 2000


VSI-Fax 4.0

V-Systems, Inc.
25371 Commercentre Dr., Ste. 100
Lake Forest, CA 92630
Ph: 800-556-4874
Fx: 949-462-3300
E-mail: [email protected]
Web site: www.vsi.com

Price: Starts at about $1,500. See www.vsi.com/pdf/pricing4.pdf

Installation: 4
Documentation: 3.5
Features: 4.25
Operational Testing: 4.75
Overall: B+

At TMC Labs, we're futurists. We like to think that someday, advances in biometric security and encrypted digital signatures will render paper documents and ink obsolete. Until then, we still need to fax things.

Bridging the gap between primitive fax machines and the paperless society are network fax servers. The latest such product we reviewed is VSI-FAX 4.0, from V-Systems, Inc. We found that VSI-FAX is reasonably priced, easy to use, and offers a good feature set. It lacks some of the features of the industry heavyweights, like fax-on-demand and OCR, but it does offer Web browser and command line interfaces (CLI), Outlook integration, and XML support. We tested the Windows NT edition, which is administered as a snap-in to the Microsoft Management Console (MMC) interface. Versions are also available for UNIX, Linux, Lotus Notes/R5, and Baan. We feel that this product is best suited for small- to mid-sized Microsoft shops, and for larger organizations that favor UNIX or Lotus breeds.

The TMC network already runs a fax server, so we set up a devoted LAN on which to test this product. This network was quite simple and used just two computers, both NT 4.0 Servers. The first computer was a primary domain controller with Exchange 5.5 and the NT Option Pack. The second computer ran the VSI server. Both were older Pentium II machines, and both had Outlook 2000, Office 2000, Service Pack 5, and 128 MB of RAM.

Installing the fax server is mostly a matter of standard wizards -- or so we thought. First, we had to enter a proof-of-purchase ID into the VSI Web site, which gave us the actual installation key. The version we received was still in beta, and we encountered numerous minor bugs and glitches along the way. However, many of these issues had more to do with Exchange and our own unique configuration. The VSI support staff was helpful in solving most of it, so we're confident that real-world installers will not have the same problems that we did.

There are six components to install from the main installation menu. These include the actual server, the MMC snap-in, a cover page editor, the VSI SDK, the Outlook client, and the Web client. Obviously we installed the server itself first; along the way, we also installed the provided drivers for our Brooktrout TR-114PL board. Without the miscellaneous snags that were nobody's particular fault, the installation would have been complete in just a few hours. Issues like configuring users, cover page templates, and Web security will take up more of the installer's time in actual implementations.

The version of VSI-FAX that we received included a getting started manual, a server manual, and online versions of the manuals for the covermaker, SDK MMC, Outlook, and Web applications. Several readme files (release notes) were also included, plus a summary card for controlling VSI-FAX from a CLI.

We were very pleased with the comprehensiveness and the overall quality of the online help in VSI-FAX. The release notes and the server manual were almost as good. However, the getting started manual and the portions of the release notes that addressed product installation were very poor -- our installation headaches were not because of any bug per se, but they might have been avoided if there were better explanations of the installation process.

By now, you are probably wondering what caused our hassle. The culprit was publishing VSI-FAX's organizational forms to Exchange. An individual ownership setting in Exchange was not properly set, but the setting was buried in a submenu of a submenu of a submenu of... well, you get the idea. Worse, the getting started manual and the Outlook release notes devoted a combined one-half page to the topic. It's possible that a veteran IT manager who works with Exchange on a daily basis may have known about the hidden setting, but it took a veteran TMC Labs engineer and two VSI support staffers three days, several conference calls, and hours examining the NT registry to find it -- and we're not exactly newbies! We like this product's operation manuals very much, but the installation documents are substandard.

Powerful features are included for both administrators and end users. For administrators, there are features like LCR, fax logging/monitoring, support for fax boards and fax modems, and custom integration into standard Windows applications. End users get the Outlook client and Web client, DID/DNIS/DTMF routing, fax merge, print-to-fax drivers, and Windows 2000 support.

Of the numerous administration features, the most impressive ones are the MMC administration and the command line administration. The MMC snap-in, is very easy to learn -- in general, we like applications that use the MMC, because it eliminates the issue of proprietary interfaces that don't conform to Windows conventions. Plus, by using the MMC, you're more likely to have the most efficient OS hooks and minimal resource and memory needs, and you can have a faster time-to-market because there's no need to design a new administration interface.

In VSI's case, there are 11 main MMC options. These include classes (device groups), devices (modems or fax boards), directories (people/groups, public/private), licenses (one per active client connection), queues (separate for each device, class, and LCR module), resources (attachments, cover pages, overlays), profiles (multiple masters, and users), users (personal privileges and settings), event logs (details every device, class, and process), inbound logs (records received faxes), and outbound logs (records outbound faxes).

VSI's CLI is the second way to administer the application, in both the Windows and UNIX/Linux environments. Although VSI does not recommend using the CLI as your standard method, it's a very powerful and fast way to make quick systems changes or to diagnose bugs. Fortunately, the 370-page server manual is mostly devoted to the CLI commands and syntax.

Faxes are sent using Outlook or the Windows print driver. In Outlook (which needs to be the 1998 version or later), VSI adds two buttons to the toolbar: One for sending, and one for viewing the fax status. Selecting the send button opens a new interface with four tabs. The first tab, General, resembles a typical Outlook new message view. The second tab, Sending Options, includes: Delivery report (on each attempt, failures, never, success, or always), delivery priority (low, medium, high, urgent), resolution (fine or standard), delay send (date and time), paper size (letter, legal, A4), orientation (portrait or landscape), retry strategy (default, three attempts, four attempts, international), device/class, cost code, and dialing affixes. Cover Page is the third tab, with options to enter a text message or custom header, and to enter your organization's name, contact information, and user-defined fields. Alternatively, you can use the included cover page editor software to make a more elaborate template. The final tab here is Attachments, which is very simple -- just choose "add" and select the file.

The fax status button and the Windows application fax drivers both do exactly what you'd expect them to. The fax status interface provides information such as the recipient's name and fax number, the "from" data, the message status (queued, sending, sent, etc.), and the device name and time that the message was submitted. LCR, CIS, and user-defined fields are also shown. Meanwhile, the Windows drivers operate by selecting the appropriate VSI system from the Printers drop-down list. The rest of this process is self-explanatory and works the same as sending your output to any printer.

The next major option is the Web fax feature, and the Web client is very straightforward. The main options are Inbox, Outbox, Create, Directory, Options, and Help. Most of the options are the same as those in the Outlook client -- for example, in the Create menu, the four tabs and options are the same as those described in the paragraph above.

As we described in the Installation portion of this review, we configured our testbed with two computers: One was a primary domain controller and Exchange server, the other was the VSI server. The first thing we noticed is that users added with the appropriate privileges in the NT user manager automatically appear in the VSI MMC snap-in. For large implementations, this is a great time-saver. The rest of the MMC functions are equally easy to learn and to use. The CLI is more powerful for precise system control. It's obviously more difficult to master than the MMC, but anyone with a grasp of UNIX or DOS fundamentals should be able to do so.

We configured several users with different privilege sets. In testing the clients for Outlook, Windows applications, and the Web, we found that each is good for certain situations, and each is very easy to learn. End users should have no trouble with it. The only exception to this rule stems from the cover page and groups/classes applications, which can get complicated. However, it's just as simple to establish corporate policies that limit template and group creation to the IT staff.

One of our favorite VSI features is the Directory option of the Web client. Although it's a very simple interface, it includes a good search tool for larger directories, and entering contact information is a one-click process. The downside is that short of using some advanced administration-level tools or the CLI, there's no easy way for end users to import their personal Outlook address books. Even stranger, the Web client does not work properly in some versions of Netscape Navigator. (We plan to run some continued tests with the Navigator 6.0 beta, which was released just before this review's deadline.)

We're also impressed with the program's other attributes, such as the SDK, with features like sample API code, COM status control, and the complete XML-F document type definition (DTD). Otherwise, there is fax broadcasting and merging, Windows 2000 support, native file imaging, signature and logo options, and server load balancing.

Other than the issue of documenting the installation process, the main areas where VSI-FAX 4.0 can be improved all are in its feature set. We feel that more power needs to be given to the end users, in terms of customization and contact management. A docs-on-demand feature and OCR would be useful additions, as would more thorough Web integration. We like the UNIX, Linux, and Windows 2000 options.

This product has been on the market for a long time, and it's been improved since the previous release. Although it has some good features and it's very cost-effective, we feel that it still needs some fine-tuning. We love the power of the CLI; more of this power should be accessible through the MMC. We also are very fond of the online help for its "How do I?" and "Fundamentals" sections. This product is worthy of your consideration, and its main purpose -- to save you money by sending faxes over IP instead of over the PSTN -- works quite well.

Technology Marketing Corporation

2 Trap Falls Road Suite 106, Shelton, CT 06484 USA
Ph: +1-203-852-6800, 800-243-6002

General comments: [email protected].
Comments about this site: [email protected].


© 2023 Technology Marketing Corporation. All rights reserved | Privacy Policy