Faxing in OpenOffice.org
Faxes are the technology that won't die. Having become popular in the 1970s, they persist in modern business, despite being redundant and needlessly complicated. Increasingly, fax capacity has been transferred online, often via office suites. In keeping with this norm, OpenOffice.org offers everything you need to fax from within it, but you do need to do some configuration both inside and outside OpenOffice.org before you can use the office suite for faxing.
Setting up the hardware
You can use a stand-alone fax machine with GNU/Linux, but you quickly run into the problem that it probably connects through the modem -- and the vast majority of built-in modems these days tend to be Winmodems, so-called because they required a running copy of Windows to use. You can learn how to test your modem from Linmodems.org, and, in some cases, how to get it to work despite its design. Another alternative is to scrounge a ten year old external modem from a second hand store, which has a good chance of not being a Winmodem.
However, if you are concerned with your desktop footprint, or want less trouble, you will probably want to find a simpler solution. A search through the Debian repositories indicate some fascinating possibilities, including tools for faxing via your sound card and a ham radio, but by far the easiest -- and most compact -- solution is an all-in-one printer that includes fax capacity.
A search through the OpenPrinting database will tell you which of these printers support faxing under GNU/Linux. Postscript printers from Hewlett-Packard are especially good choices, since they tend to be well-supported by free drivers.
Once you have your faxing machine, you need to set it up on your system. Essentially, this procedure consists of setting up the machine as a printer.
OpenOffice.org's online help suggests that you use the spadmin command for this procedure, but that choice has two problems: It enables faxing only within OpenOffice.org, and, increasingly, GNU/Linux distributions don't bother shipping spadmin any more.
Instead, turn on your fax device and set it up using the CUPS system. In GNOME, you will find a wizard for configuring a printer or fax under CUPS somewhere in the System -> Administration menu (the exact location depending on how much your distribution modifies the default menus), or in the KDE Control Center (or in the Settings menu if you are already using KDE 4.0). If you are using an HP all-in-one printer, you can also use the HPLip Toolbox. All these tools feature wizard-like dialogues that you should have few problems following. Each of them does more or less the same thing as OpenOffice.org's spadmin command, but allow you to fax from other applications as well if you choose.
For convenience, you probably just want to name the fax device Fax. At any rate, be sure to give it a different name than the instance of the device that you use for ordinary printing.
Preparing a fax template
Once your fax device is setup, you can send any document within OpenOffice.org as a fax. But if you want your fax to look like a traditional fax, you can go to File -> Wizards ->Fax to create a fax template. You'll need Java enabled on your system to run it, or else the GCJ hack developed a few years ago when OpenOffice.org first started to use Java in its development (Go to Tools -> Options -> OpenOffice.org -> Java if you have problems). You should also check that you have all your personal data entered in Tools -> Options -> OpenOffice.org -> User Data, since the wizard uses the information to fill fields automatically.
The Fax wizard starts with a choice of page designs. The main choices are Business or Personal, the main difference being that various Business designs start with a summary box at the top. Within these categories, the main difference is which graphic is used at the top of the page.
The wizard then leads you through windows where you can choose the structure of contents of the fax, enter the return address or have it automatically generated from your User Data, create a footer, then save the result as a template.
After the template is generated, you can start a new document with the same design by selecting it from File -> New -> Templates -> Templates -> My Templates. If you want to edit the layout -- for instance, by changing the graphic to something more personal than the ones available in the wizard (which are rather generic), then you can do so by selecting File -> Template -> Organize, selecting the name of the template, then choosing Edit from the drop-down list of Commands in the window.
Sending a Fax
After all this setup, sending a fax is easy. Since a fax is treated as a printer, go to File -> Printer, and select the fax printer by name.
To make faxing even simpler, you can create an icon that sends the current document in Writer directly to file. Go to Tools -> Options -> OpenOffice.org Writer -> Print, and set the Fax field to use your fax device. Then go to Tools -> Customize -> Add -> Category -> Documents, and select Send Default Fax as a command. After that, press the Add button, followed by the Close button to return to the Toolbar customization screen and position the Fax icon where you like on the toolbar of your choice. When you want to send a fax in Writer, click the Send Default Fax button.
This last option is not available in other applications, probably on the reasoning that most faxes are sent from Writer. However, if you want the same convenience in other applications, you can create a macro using File -> Printer.
Still another way to fax is to bypass your printer and use an online fax service. One especially useful customization is eFax for StarOffice and OpenOffice.org, which, like other extensions, installs by downloading the program and adding it via Tools -> Extension Manager. The extension adds a new menu to all applications in OpenOffice.org, with the self-explanatory items Activate eFax Service, Send Fax, and Receive Faxes.
The eFax service itself requires a credit card account, but the extension works well and provides the most efficient fax service for OpenOffice.org that I know about, since it is the easiest to set up, as well as deviceless and paperless. If you can't escape this dinosaur of a technology, then this extension is an option you should seriously consider.
-- Bruce Byfield (nanday)
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