It's easy to assume that the fax machine has gone the way of the electric typewriter. But just as CIOs misread the need for 3000-grade data efficiency, the facsimile still works in business around the world. Just as you might expect, there are still a couple of applications that can take HP 3000 data and push it into a fax.
In a delightful article from the website Mobiledia, author Kat Ascharya tells the story of how this technology refuses to disappear. In our own experience here at the 3000 Newswire offices, we learned that the US government's Social Security Administration requires some payroll documents to be verified by fax. Ascharya tallies up the places where this late '80s tech has held on.
Fax machines are relics of the Stone Age, yet they still persist around the world. It turns out heavily-regulated industries -- like banking, finance, law and healthcare -- are one reason sales hold steady. And despite strong competition from cloud-sharing services like Dropbox and Google Drive, over 35 million all-in-one fax machines were shipped worldwide in 2011 and 2012, according to Gartner. And that doesn't include single-function machines, which the firm stopped tracking years ago.
"There are still plenty of fax machines out there," Ken Weilerstein, a Gartner analyst, told Fortune. "Declining in this space doesn't mean disappearing by a long shot."
In the 3000 community one of the best known and most versatile software tools, Hillary's byRequest software, includes fax distribution among its report methods.
As Ascharya's feature asked, "Why do businesses insist on fax when you can just scan, convert and e-mail? You can do it to anything and send it anywhere at any time." The byRequest description does include a broad range of sending -- including the fax.
In a single step, report files, data files, and business forms can be securely selected, formatted and distributed to one or more users in any variety of popular PC desktop files. Create formatted files in PDF, Word, Excel, HTML and more. Use unlimited delivery options to distribute files to PCs, LANs, WANs, network folders, server archives and the Internet. Files can also be emailed, faxed or printed.
By the year 1987, I had to persuade the owner of The HP Chronicle -- my entry to the HP market -- to get our publishing company its first fax machine. European markets for HP and Sun were opening up to us. An LA Times article of the following year touted the fax as "revolutionizing office environments."
And in 1987 HP released its first PA-RISC HP 3000s, using chip technology so durable that it's now being emulated in the Stromasys CHARON HPA/3000 virtualization engine.
There's even an HP 3000 application, AventX MPE (nee Fax/3000) that started out as a fax-only solution. STR Software's owner Ben Bruno told us in 2010 he'll be supporting the MPE version of the software until every 3000 owner using it gives it up. "We sold 600+ customers a license of AventX MPE from 1988 to 2002," he said. "We have retained about 100 of them on non-MPE platforms, and 50 of the remaining MPE ones will never replace it."
We're not saying that the HP 3000 is computing's equivalent of the fax machine, except in one aspect -- it's lived on for a long time. Ascharya wrote about a tool's durability as a means to cement itself as a standard.
It lives because, for a long time, it was the best and often only way to share documents quickly. Sure, there are faster and more convenient options, but no one standard has emerged to dethrone the king from its place atop the office machine kingdom. And to understand why, we have to look at its history.
The facsimile transmission has had over 160 years to cement itself as a business-world standard. In 1843, Scottish inventor Alexander Bain received a patent for a method to "produce and regulate electric currents in electric printing and signal telegraphs" -- in other words, the first fax transmission.
A short film, The Secret Life of the Fax Machine, provides an entertaining tour of why this classic technology has survived.