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ISSUE 544: The high tech office- March 28 2000

ALAN ZISMAN

Talkworks Pro allows small offices to sound big

A stereotypical office in the 1950s or 1960s contained a pool of stenographers and typists. Virtually all that is now gone. Most of us type our own documents and reports. And more and more, receptionists are being replaced by voice mail systems.

The Internet makes it possible for small businesses to use a Web page to project themselves to the wider world. And now, improved software from utilities giant Symantec allows those same small businesses and home offices to get the sort of phone and fax services that used to require a trained employee.

TalkWorks Pro, developed in Toronto by what used to be Delrina Software, offers a complete voicemail and fax message system in a box for about $200. It's designed for users with a Windows-compatible computer and a voice-capable fax modem.

Version 3 offers a host of new capabilities. It allows users to use wizards and templates to quickly create the voicemail message boxes they need.

The system combines the phone company's CallerID option. Phonebooks stored on your computer display onscreen information about your callers and the program supports address books created by ACT! and Microsoft Outlook, as well as standard database formats. You can designate phone numbers as "Special Callers." The boss, family members or your key customers can get a different phone message or you can have their calls routed directly to you.

You can record a message and have it broadcast to a list of phone numbers and set the software to forward incoming calls or messages or to track you down. You can have the system send messages as e-mail attachments, so you can get them over the Internet wherever you happen to be.

You can even generate different rules for how to deal with messages (or important callers) during the evening or on weekends.

The program includes a copy of Symantec's WinFax Pro, which simplifies use of your modem's fax capabilities. WinFax's features are integrated into TalkWorks' interface, along with the telephone and messaging, making it all much easier to use. And combining TalkWorks and WinFax features allows you to create a fax-on-demand system so callers can request documents from a list, which will be automatically faxed back after they hang up.

All calls can be logged, generating detailed reports of who's calling or faxing and which fax documents are being requested. Even hang-ups are logged and reported. Users of ACT! can automatically enter calls into their client database.

Since most offices don't have a fax-modem in each computer, the program's capabilities can be shared across the office network.

Setting up a complex system can be a chore. This software takes much of the pain out of it, with wizards and templates for common tasks, and multimedia tutorials to walk you through the more advanced options. The basic user interface resembles an office phone. (Though I wonder about this trend in software design that makes programs look like gadgets in our home or office.)

Of course, like self-serve gas stations, this sort of software gets us to do more and more tasks that we used to pay someone to do for us. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the long-term implications of this use of technology.

And I'm certainly not happy with giving small business and home office the opportunity to put me through the sorts of voice mail hell that too often confronts me when I'm trying to reach someone in a large organization. And there are certainly times when I don't want my computer phoning multiple numbers in an attempt to track me down.

Despite these lingering doubts, I suspect that many will find its faxing and messaging capabilities very useful and will appreciate its ability to let a smaller organization sound the same as its larger counterparts over the phone.

If you're not interested in the voicemail features, WinFax Pro is available on its own. It costs $178, or $103 to upgrade from an earlier version. *

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan