MultiFax

Psst! Want to create a Windows broadcast fax system with web-based administration using Linux? Come over here and we'll talk.
Dealing with Incoming Faxes

When faxes arrive, you have the option of printing them immediately using the new_fax scripts or simply stacking them up in the queue and printing them manually. In order to have your faxes immediately go to a printer, mgetty+sendfax includes a few scripts to use depending on the eventual destination of your printout. On my system (Red Hat 6.0), the sample scripts are in the /etc/mgetty+sendfax directory. On my local server, we use the new_fax.lj script which formats the output for a Laserjet printer. To use the script, simply copy (or rename) the new_fax.whatever to new_fax.

The web-based menu lists faxes in the incoming queue and allows for printing or reprinting of any given page. Each entry is identified by date and time, sender and page number. Printing the page is simply a matter of clicking on the red button on the right.

Broadcast Faxing

Now comes the fun part and the real reason a simple web interface for outgoing faxes became so much more. We had many requests for a package that offered broadcast faxing at a decent price (or free). After checking the newsgroups and discovering that those solutions weren't easy to come by, it was obvious we needed to create one.

The mgetty+sendfax package does allow for broadcast faxing, it turns out. As mentioned above, you can specify a list name by sending to @listname instead of just a user name. This would require a user to maintain a text list on the Linux server. Not too difficult, but what about our Windows users who would rather not see the shell prompt or deal with vi? It is for those users, after all, that we are doing this.

Click on the “Update Broadcast Fax Groups” link from the MultiFax menu. You will be presented with a list of current fax groups. See Figure 4 for an example. You can add a new group, modify an existing group, or remove a group from the list. The basic installation has no groups yet, so you will have only one choice—to add a group.

Figure 4. Broadcast Fax Administration Screen

Let's start by adding a group called “Customers”. Choose “Add a new fax group” from the list, or simply click on the radio button with the same name. Then click on “Submit Request”, and you will be presented with the group update screen. This is the same screen you would see if you chose an existing group and wanted to modify it. The only difference is your group name is blank at this time. Enter Customers and tab over to the next field.

Initially, the form has ten rows for names and phone numbers. When you have filled in all ten, you can continue adding more names by clicking the button labelled “Modify an Existing Group”. If you need more than ten, just go back to the broadcast fax menu, select your group (Customers), click on modify, and you will get another ten fields of names to add. In fact, you will always have ten free fields.

Finally, you have the option of removing groups which have become dated or no longer apply. Removing a group from the list starts with the same menu. When you click “Submit Request”, you will be prompted with the confirmation request, “Are you sure you want to do this?” after which the group will be permanently removed.

Documentation? There's Documentation

MultiFax has a fourth menu option with simple, guideline-only documentation. The MultiFax distribution comes with some READMEs and documentation that should answer any other questions that might crop up. Using what's there, you could customize the solution to your own ends.

The Big Wrap-up

Regardless of what you are prepared to spend for a commercial fax solution, there is no such thing as “plug it in and your whole network is up and faxing thirty seconds later”. You, the beleaguered system administrator, will have to do some of your magic to make it happen. Using these instructions, you can create a Linux/Windows network faxing solution that is dependable, inexpensive and fairly simple. Add the web-based fax administration software to that package, and you can unload some of the responsibility of administering network faxing to your users.

Besides, as system administrators, you've got other more important things to worry about—like printers, but we won't go there.

Resources

Marcel Gagné (mggagne@salmar.com) is a longtime Linux user—many different flavours of UNIX, in fact. His company, Salmar Consulting Inc., is a systems integration and network consulting firm specializing in UNIX and TCP/IP networking and the odd Windows NT job. He is also a published science fiction writer with some fantasy tossed in for good measure. When feeling a great need to lose money and time, he plays co-editor and co-publisher of TransVersions, a science fiction, fantasy and horror magazine.

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