VoIPowering Your Office: Faxing With Zoiper; Digium Goes Insane

Even though faxing seems quaint and archaic to many of us elite geeks and 21st century technologists, people cling to faxing and will not give it up. I can see the value of electronically transmitting an exact copy of a signed document, but why cling to moldy old faxing technology? Way too many people have no problem with sending huge attachments in e-mail—usually jokes you’ve already seen a few hundred times. Is it that big a leap to doing the same thing with documents? It’s easy to scan a document and attach it to e-mail, or you can choose from any number of fax-to-e-mail programs. This also gives the recipient the option of printing it; maybe they don’t need to at all and would prefer to save a tree and a toner bush.

I’ve never been a fan of computer-based faxing because it’s primarily a spamming tool. Cue up your list of suckers, and with one click you can spam the living daylights out of thousands people for next to nothing, and best of all, they pay for your bandwidth, ink, and paper. Yay!

Even though VoIP is one of newest, most revolutionary networking and telephony
technologies, people still want faxing, only now they want to do it via IP.
Which to me makes as much sense as demanding Morse code-enabled telephones.
Me, I keep a plain old analog fax machine just to humor other people. Which
is like heating bathwater on the stove even though we have modern plumbing and
a water heater.

Faxing with Zoiper
But people want what they want, and even though fax support in VoIP is iffy
and uneven, you can, under the right conditions, send faxes via VoIP. For example,
if you have an Asterisk-based VoIP server—version 1.4 or later—it
supports the T.38 fax-over-IP protocol in pass-through mode. So you need both
endpoints to support decoding T.38. The Zoiper
, which is an excellent softphone that supports both IAX and SIP,
supports sending and receiving T.38 faxes over SIP. The other end of the transaction
could be another Zoiper softphone, or a fax machine connected to a T.38 PSTN
gateway, or a PC with some other T.38-capable fax software.

One nice thing about sending faxes to Zoiper or a PC is you can send directly
to the recipient, rather than the usual fax machine in the corner that is at
the mercy of many users.

So how do you do this with Zoiper? Easy as pie. First you need your (presumably
scanned) document saved in TIFF format, which is standard for computer faxing.
Then you open the fax dialog, enter the fax number, choose the correct TIFF
file in the chooser, and Zoiper does the rest. If the endpoint your fax is going
to supports T.38, you’ll see a “Starting Fax Page” message. If it doesn’t, it
will say “Media not supported.”

Zoiper, which used to be Idefisk, runs on Mac OS X, Linux, and Windows. It has a free version, a business version with more features, and an OEM version that can be customized for both appearance and feature set. It’s my current favorite softphone; it has a clean, uncluttered interface and excellent user and administrator manuals. An interesting feature in the Business edition is support for TLS/SRTP, or encryption and authentication. We’ll take a look at this soon.

Digium loses their Collective Mind
I’m not sure how it happened; perhaps it was something in the water. But Digium
has done what no other software vendor has ever done—as of February 11,
2008 they added a money-back guarantee to Switchvox and Asterisk Business Edition.
I am not making this up—see Digium
Announces New “Exceptional Satisfaction Program”

“The new Digium ESP guarantee is 100 percent focused on customer satisfaction and includes the following:

  • A new five-year warranty on all new Digium PCI and PCI Express telephony cards;
  • A one-year warranty on all Digium Appliances that can be extended via subscription renewal;
  • All Commercial Asterisk Software will come with a one-year subscription standard and can be extended via subscription renewal;
  • A money-back guarantee should Digium products fail to perform as advertised.”

The typical software EULA reads more like something out of a bad comedy routine: the vendor refuses to guarantee even a minimal performance level, and no matter how much damage their product causes, no matter how incompetent and non-functional it is, they exempt themselves from all responsibility. And then in our modern Bizarro world, clicking “I agree” magically transforms this into a binding contract, even though the basis of contract law is genuine negotiation and a meeting of the minds. So customers end up subsidizing crapware, and paying for the privilege of repairing products riddled with manufacturing defects.

So this announcement is pretty radical. It applies to their hardware line
as well, but this is not so radical since computer hardware has always come
with some kind of warranty, feeble though it may be. I hope this is the start
of a trend that infects all commercial software vendors.

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