HP's weapon in the paperless wars
- By Paul Ferrill
- Jul 17, 2000
While many government agencies have made strides toward going paperless,
most still depend on one of the great paper producers of all times the
fax machine for transmitting and receiving nonelectronic documents. And
as long as the fax is still king of the office, it seems the paperless goal
will remain a chimera.
But now several products have been introduced that suggest that the
government's dependency on the fax machine can be reduced, if not eliminated.
HP's Digital Sender, for example, offers an alternative to the fax machine
by converting paper documents into digital form and then sending them via
e-mail. Adobe Systems Inc. has a similar software product, Acrobat Messenger,
which requires a dedicated Microsoft Corp. Windows NT machine and scanner.
But while Acrobat Messenger offers other capabilities, such as optical character
recognition, it comes at a price significantly higher than the HP Digital
The Digital Sender looks like a cross between a traditional fax machine
and a copier. A top-loading document feeder takes up to 25 single- or double-sided
pages. For double-sided documents, you must feed the pages through twice,
once for each side. The system then collates the digital pages before sending
them. The document feeder accommodates paper up to legal size, but pages
that are placed directly on the glass for scanning must be less than 11.7
inches in length.
Configuring the network options presents about the only challenge to
setting up the system. An RJ-45 jack on the rear of the machine supports
a standard 10Base-T connection to any TCP/IP network. The first thing you
must do after connecting the system to the network is configure the IP address
as either static or dynamic. The Digital Sender supports both BOOTP and
Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol for dynamic IP addressing.
Next, Digital Sender will need your mail server address and a default
e-mail account to use when sending documents. I tested the Digital Sender
on a small network with a Cobalt Qube Linux-based appliance box as our
e-mail server. I used Microsoft's Outlook Express as my e-mail client to
retrieve messages sent from the Digital Sender.
The Digital Sender uses e-mail messages that are compliant with Multipurpose
Internet Mail Extensions to transmit its information. Users choose either
Adobe's Portable Document Format or TIFF for the attachments. The size of
the attachment will depend on the resolution the user selects and whether
it is in color or black and white. The worst-case scenario for a fairly
complex single-page, black-and-white document was around 400K. Color documents
are typically larger, although in several instances a color document was
actually smaller than the same page in black and white.
The default operating mode for the Digital Sender is guest mode anyone
can walk up to the machine and send a document, much like a typical fax
Two additional modes self-registering user and registered user provide
an added level of security. In self-registering mode, new users must register
the first time they use the machine and then log in each subsequent time.
In the registered user mode, only users selected by an administrator can
have access to the machine.
Sending a document consists of entering a destination address and then
scanning the document. The Digital Sender supports Lightweight Directory
Access Protocol address look-up if your network provides that service. You
can also create individual e-mail address books with single and multiple
While the keyboard on the Digital Sender is not one you'd use to type
a lengthy e-mail message, it's adequate for the job at hand. One feature
I did not like was the arrangement of the keys on the numeric keypad, with
the "1" at the top instead of the bottom.
The system also does not give much feedback on the status of a message.
With a traditional fax machine, you get immediate feedback on the success
or failure of a transmission. With e-mail, you're typically notified if
your message was not deliverable. The Digital Sender is a send-only machine,
so there's no immediate feedback to let you know whether your message made
it. There is an option for registered users to receive an e-mail notification
of delivery, but the server must support Extended Simple Mail Transfer Protocol
for this feature to work.
HP provides several utilities to help administer the Digital Sender.
The Address Book Import Tool, available on the HP World Wide Web site, will
import addresses from Microsoft Outlook or Exchange for individual users
or for a global public address book. HP's Web JetAdmin program provides
a browser-based administration utility for configuring and monitoring the
health of HP network-enabled devices such as printers or the Digital Sender.
There's also a utility for updating the Digital Sender's firmware over the
The HP Digital Sender can be a real cost saver if your organization
has a lot of outbound fax traffic. It will also help with the paperless
office effort by quickly transforming paper documents into digital images
that can then be routed to anyone with an e-mail address.
Ferrill, based at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., is a principal engineer
with Avionics Test & Analysis Corp. He can be reached [email protected].