HP's weapon in the paperless wars

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 Sender's.

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.

Setting Up

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 machine.

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 Documents

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 entries.

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 network.

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 pferrill@fwb.gulf.net.


HP Digital Sender 8100C

Score: A+

Hewlett-Packard Co.

(613) 728-8200


Price and Availability: Available for $1,299 on the open market.

Remarks: The HP Digital Sender offers hope for government agencies drowning ina sea of paper and looking for an electronic way out. Using Adobe SystemsInc.'s Portable Document Format or TIFF files as attachments to e-mail providesa way to convert paper documents into digital form and then transmit themto one or many recipients. User address books and Lightweight DirectoryAccess Protocol support make the addressing chore much easier. Download page for the Address Book Import Tool:


BY Paul Ferrill
July 17, 2000

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