The end of Ernestine (Symantec TalkWorks 3.0)

by Alan Zisman (c) 2000. First published in Toronto Computes, May 2000

Symantec TalkWorks Pro version 3.0
$177.95 (downloadable), $192.95 (packaged), $71.95 (downloadable upgrade)
requires: Pentium 166, Windows 95/98/NT/2000, 100 MB drive space, compatible voice-capable fax-modem

One of the joys (and sometimes curses) of the personal computer as we know it is its versatility. Add a laser printer and desktop publishing software and become a typesetter and printer. Add a digital camera and become a darkroom and photography special effects center. Add a video capture card or connect a digital camcorder to a Firewire port, and produce your own movies.

Add a voice-capable fax modem and Symantec?s new TalkWorks Pro version 3.0, and your Windows 9x/NT computer becomes a ?Voicemail and Fax Message System?. TalkWorks? roots lie in WinFax Pro, originally created by Toronto-based Delrina. WinFax attained wide popularity by making it easy to send virtually any computer-generated document using a fax modem?and (with somewhat more difficulty) set up a computer to receive faxes as well.

WinFax (now, along with the rest of Delrina, owned by utilities-giant Symantec) has continued to add features and capability. Somewhere around Version 8, it gained an add-on, TalkWorks, allowing users to use their computer to replace their telephone answering machines.

But TalkWorks gained a life of its own, and now the tables are turned?WinFax (still available separately) has become an add-on to the TalkWorks package?while WinFax gets a separate manual, the user interface is integrated into the main TalkWorks message center.

Along the way, TalkWorks has gained features, and now is much more than a simple telephone answering system. Like higher-end dedicated answering systems, you can set up multiple voicemail accounts, with separate messages, giving your home office or small business the professional air of a larger enterprise.

But it also does much more?more than you can get from a typical answering machine. It keeps track of all calls and faxes?logging even the callers who just hang up. it supports phone company services like Caller ID and more, so you can see on screen who?s calling. By combining this with your stored phonebooks, you can find the name and other details of who?s calling before you answer the phone.

New features can go beyond that?and track you down when you?re out of the office. You can have all messages forwarded to your cell phone or pager, or set it to just forward callers who you?ve identified as important. TalkWorks can be set to try multiple phone numbers to track you down, if needed. If you?d rather, calls can be automatically forwarded right to your cell or other phone number?or you can reserve this feature for your designated ?special callers?.

Messages can even be forwarded as e-mail attachments, so you can easily get them over the Internet.

In a networked environment, a single Host machine can share voice modem and fax capabilities with the other computers. You can use it to record a single voice message and then automatically phone up everyone on a list and play them your message. The software can also be used to set up and control a fax on demand system?allowing callers to request specific documents using their touch-town phone, and having them faxed directly to them after they hang up.

The new version is much easier to use?there?s a new interface that combines the telephone and answering machine interfaces. New wizards and templates simplify setting up your answering system?helping you create the mailboxes and messages that you need. And multimedia tutorials help walk users through some of the more complex tasks. On-screen simulation lets you test our your system before letting it loose on the real world.

To get full use of this program, you?ll want a modem that?s speakerphone ready, and that supports CallerID. And of course, you?ll need to get CallerID turned on by the phone company. But with the right hardware, this software, and some patience, you can make your computer replace a receptionist.

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