PC Week – 24th April 1995

It ain’t 3-D, it ain’t fax — but it sure is new

From PC Week for April 24, 1995 by Bill Machrone

The best thing about my job is the unending parade of new technology.
Some of it is just what you’d expect — stepwise improvements to
technology, variations on a theme, or predictable implementations of
recent scientific developments. Others, however, take unexpected twists
that leave me scratching my head.

One that caught me utterly by surprise was 3D Fax, a new offering from
startup InfoImaging Technologies (415-960-0010; www.infoimaging.com).
The product’s name threw me for a loop, because it definitely isn’t 3-D
and it isn’t necessarily fax. It does embody some original ideas,
however, and may be worthy of your attention.

Here’s the deal: 3D Fax uses digital compression technology to convert
your documents into PCX files. They can be text, graphics, binaries,
data, even sound files. Compression can be as great as 25 to 1,
especially with airy, bloated file formats such as WinWord. You transmit
them from your PC using your fax modem, using fax protocols instead of
data protocols, so you need a fax modem on both sides of the wire.

The idea here is that fax protocols are more universal than data
protocols, self-negotiate, and save you the inevitable phone call in
which you and the recipient do the protocol negotiation: “OK, let’s do
8N1, Zmodem.” “I don’t have Zmodem. How about Xmodem 1K?” “OK, 14 dot
four?” “No, mine’s a 9,600.” “OK, here goes.” “Oops, I forgot to put it
in receive mode.” And so on. Of course, many of us avoid these hassles
by attaching documents to E-mail messages, but mail gateways are less
than wonderful at handling attachments, sometimes mangling them or
stripping them from the message.

When you receive the 3D Fax file on the other end, decompression
software turns it back into the original format. Now here’s a twist: You
can send the file to any fax machine. When you do, you get a boxed
picture with black-and-white speckles as output. If you scan the image
into a PC, the 3D Fax software can turn it back into the original
document. Not only that, but error recovery is good enough to allow you
to wrinkle the page and make some pen marks on it and still read it

You can also encrypt the file during the compression phase. The
encryption is not the most robust, but an encrypted PCX file sent via
fax protocols is likely to puzzle all but the most intrepid
codebreakers. IIT says that encrypted fax is a natural market for 3D
Fax, since it can not only drastically cut page count and connect time,
but can provide a measure of security unavailable to most fax users. As
new generations of fax machines emerge with built-in serial ports and as
multifunction printer/copier/fax machines gain traction in the SOHO
market, things seem to be evolving in 3D Fax’s direction.

3D Fax’s compressed, printable, and scannable format means that you can
archive files on paper. The only limitation is that you need a 300-dot-
per-inch scanner and their software to restore the file. They seem to
think this is a cool feature. Frankly, I’m having trouble coming up with
a scenario where I’d prefer a paper archive to a floppy disk or tape.
Strong magnetic fields? Sneaking programs and data across international
borders? I’d be interested to hear from you if this technology tickles
your fancy or suggests some unique applications to you.

Bill Machrone is Vice President of Technology for Ziff-Davis Publishing
Co. He can be reached via MCI Mail (wmachrone) or CompuServe (72241,15).