Fast Fixes for FAXstf for Mac OS X

Some time back, this column penned some thoughts on FAXstf for Mac OS X, a nice commercial fax program. With the passage of time, inevitably things break once or twice. Here are a few tips to keep FAXstf happy.

First off, get the updates. That's just good general principle, learned the hard way by quite a few folks lately. Soon after its retail box release of version 10, there appeared a FAXstf 10.0.8 update, which stood for quite a while. The latest at press time is 10.1.4, an update that presumes a reasonably healthy installation of FAXstf already in place. This update is essentially a bug fix for 10.1.2, which in turn installs a totally new program. Unless you have an overriding need to move forward from the modular FAXstf 10.0.8, I wouldn't do these last updates. It's a big change. If you decide to do them, though, take screen shots of each of your configuration panels first. More about that in a bit.

Next up is the realization that faxmodems simply misbehave sometimes, regardless of the software packages driving them. For those times when your modem fails to hang up or otherwise misbehaves, you need FAXhangup, a freeware application specifically designed to work with FAXstf. This application installs merely by unpacking the download and dragging the thing into your Applications folder or onto your Applications icon in any Finder window. Sweet. And very Mac. That done, I'd like you to drag FAXhangup onto your Finder toolbar. If, like myself, you have enough stuff in it to roll past the end, then a click on the chevron in the upper-right corner of any Finder window will drop down the rest. By the way, use Cmd-Drag to reorder your collection how you like it. (To accommodate moving them around, stretch your Finder window temporarily.) Frozen modem? No problem now. Click, fix. Many thanks go to the author of that program.

FAXhangup in Action

FAXstf is our office fax machine, at least on the receiving end of things. A couple of times I have had to reinstall the application. Who knows what happens when you're not looking? Anyway, should you need to do this too, there are a small handful of pointers to keep in mind. FAXstf installs a user folder called FAXstf X User Data that is located in your Documents folder. If you decide to move your Documents folder to a different disk, be sure to replace it with a bona fide unix link to it, as opposed to a Mac alias. I hope that the next release of OS X cooks a real link by default, but in the meantime you can make one yourself. Open a Finder window with your real Documents folder visible. Now, in a fresh Terminal window, type ln -s   (leave a space), then drag your Documents icon onto it. Press Return and you're done.

Inside the FAXstf X User Data folder is another folder called Modems. It contains folders of configuration data for any modems you may have set up with FAXstf. The "default" is Apple Internal Modem, as many Macs these days include a built-in modem. Your mileage may vary. When you change the station name, the folder once called Apple Internal Modem should get renamed to match. But things glitch. Should you have to reinstall, make sure that there is only one folder inside the Modem folder. Now empty the trash. In a throwback to Mac OS days, FAXstf will look into the Trash folder for suitable modem setups, and this isn't what you want FAXstf to find. If you missed one, the FAXstf installer will query you to select from the multiple modem configuration folders it finds. Stop right here and fix the problem. With only one modem set up, there is no ambiguity. Then reinstall from the top.

Contents of FAXstf User Data

The 10.0.8 installer insists on closing any open applications before proceeding. It's a pain, but fortunately you should not have to do it too often. It also requires a reboot to finish. In addition, you'll have to re-key all of your modem and user info, such as station name and ID (Modem Center, Modem, Setup), and your From details (Fax Browser, Preferences, Identity). Remember also to reset your Receive rings to 1 or more if you expect FAXstf to answer the phone; and your dialing prefix, if any, if you expect it to dial out properly. If you can, do a screen capture on each configuration window before proceeding. Frankly, these items should be remembered across updates and upgrades. I hope SmithMicro smoothes out these wrinkles in a forthcoming release, and perhaps they have by now in the most recent FAXstf Pro release.

I have a folder called Archives, in which I keep downloaded installers and the like. I made a FAXstf folder in there, where I keep a copy of the original installer, a text file with the serial number of the original disk, and the updaters. I also have the screen shots of our FAXstf configuration, one for each panel. With pictures, it's almost child's play to restore these panels. And it's amazing what you can forget.

FAXstf installs a server component called - what else? - Fax Server into your Login Items system preference. For completeness, I like to move this near the top of the list, in order that it gets started earlier. It might not make the slightest difference, but I feel better, and isn't that what counts? I originally added Fax Browser as a login item with a checked Hide box, but Modem Center pops to the front automatically when a fax is received, and Fax Browser is easily started from there. Keep it simple. If you like, drag the Fax Browser application into your Dock.

Working with FAXstf reminds me a little of another modular fax server package I set up several years ago on a Windows NT server. That product was called Zetafax, and that installation still runs reliably to this day, a credit, it seems to me, to both the authors and the installer. The curious thing about Zetafax was its modular and extensible installation, eminently logical from a functional point-of-view and rock-solid too, but overly complicated for a standalone setup. Since that time, Zetafax has moved into the corporate multi-client fax market, leaving the standalone fax software market to companies like SmithMicro and numerous others.

Though FAXstf has had its share of odd behavior, I would still recommend the package, and probably purchase FAXstf Pro for any new server we might purchase. The funny thing about fax packages is that, unlike most desktop software, they mostly work without intervention, particularly if they're set to print and clean up automatically, as is the case with my Zetafax example. So one isn't so inclined to see the value of an upgrade towards additional features if the present product is performing transparently. The fact that FAXstf does exactly this with a bare minimum of maintenance speaks volumes. In our case, we don't print automatically; we use the Fax Browser interface, which in version 10.0.8 is a little clunky. So we might ante up the bucks for FAXstf Pro someday to improve that experience. But otherwise it's just fine the way it is. And isn't that just how it should be anyway? Ciao.