A window into the technology and business of fax...


11 May 2012

Historically Mainpine had not been in the business of developing or distributing fax application software.  This was the case for at least a couple of reasons.  First, getting into the software business would certainly increase the volume of customer support as Mainpine would be expected to provide product support not only for the hardware but also for the software.  Second, many of the resellers in Mainpine's product distribution were, themselves, developing or distributing fax application software, and Mainpine did not want to offend them by appearing as competitive in the software segment.  Indeed, Mainpine customer support attempted to treat all fax applications fairly by producing hardware that was standards-compliant and by assisting its customers experiencing problems with fax application software by attempting to troubleshoot fax session failures and serving as an advocate for the customer in working with the third-party fax application software support department.


This approach had some unfortunate consequences, however.  Because the fax hardware and the fax application software are components that work together to produce a successful fax operation, the resulting reliability can only be as good as the weaker of the two components permits.  So despite Mainpine's intention to have a lessened support burden by not developing or distributing software, Mainpine found itself bearing a considerable support burden as customers with problematic fax software would turn to Mainpine customer support for assistance in resolving problems that really had nothing to do with the hardware.  Furthermore, Mainpine found that the process of reporting problems to third-party software developers and subsequently working towards and waiting for an improved or fixed version of the software was often too challenging and slow for the customer's satisfaction.  Thus, the end-result was that Mainpine found itself continually struggling against a customer success ceiling which was in many ways was imposed by limitations in third-party fax application software.  To break through that ceiling Mainpine had to change its view to include the fax software application as part of the the product package.

Among the many fax applications with which Mainpine had worked was the open-source software for Linux operating systems known as HylaFAX+.  Mainpine's relationship with customers using HylaFAX+ (or its predecessor, HylaFAX) was substantially different.  The primary difference was that due to the availability of the software source code Mainpine could actively and immediately address any problems in the software by participating in necessary code-work to resolve the problem and then produce, if needed, a new software release for the customer.  This process would typically take no more than one or two days which result customers found to be very satisfying.  It was in examining this process that Mainpine found the way forward through the limited success ceiling:  Mainpine needed to more-fully embrace HylaFAX+ for its Linux customers and reproduce that scenario somehow for its Windows customers.

Microsoft Fax has been available from the days of Windows 95, and ever since then Microsoft Fax (also known as "Windows Fax Service" or "Microsoft Shared Fax") has been included in some fashion with just about every version of Windows.  The fact that Microsoft Fax was installed or available on the system of nearly every Windows customer presented a tantalizing opportunity.  Unfortunately, Microsoft Fax was also one of the more-problematic fax applications: it doesn't support V.34-Fax (SuperG3) which is a prime selling-point for Mainpine's fax boards, it doesn't support error-correction mode (ECM) which is necessary for reliable faxing, its logging is cumbersome and difficult to use, and there are numerous operational flaws in it when working with less-than-perfect line conditions or troublesome remote systems.

Fortunately, they did something very, very smart when they developed Microsoft Fax: they made it modular.  That is, there are certain components of Microsoft Fax that operate as extendible, removable, and replaceable modules.  Two of these modular features are the "Fax Service Provider" (FSP), which performs the fax sending and fax receiving operations, and the Routing Extension, which delivers received faxes.  So a hardware manufacturer such as Mainpine could step-up and produce its own FSP as an alternative to the default FSP found in Microsoft Fax in order to support additional features and fix operational problems.  And that's exactly what Mainpine did when it produced the Mainpine Fax Service Provider for Microsoft Fax known as "IQFSP".

IQFSP works exclusively with Mainpine IQ Express fax boards.  It adds support for V.34-Fax (SuperG3) and supports ECM.  It provides detailed logging of all fax operations such that Mainpine can troubleshoot and analyse any problem even only after the first occurrence.  And all of those pesky bugs when dealing with less-than-perfect line conditions or troublesome remote systems are gone, too.

We still welcome customers to use Mainpine fax boards with any standards-compliant fax application software.  However, any time Mainpine support becomes involved in a faxing problem then Microsoft Fax and IQFSP will generally be used to try to analyse whether the problem is with the hardware, the lines, the remote system, or with the fax application software being used.

So with IQFSP Mainpine is able to offer its customers an entire fax product that can be supported end-to-end without turning to third-party developers.  If there is any problem found in the software, itself, then Mainpine can produce an immediate fix.  And, most-importantly, it lets Mainpine take its customers through that success ceiling to a perfect operational experience.