HotFax MessageCenter Pro, by Smith Micro
Posted: 6-November-2001

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Smith Micro Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Denny Behm Class: UTILITY

HotFax MessageCenter Pro provides an automated answering machine with an "unlimited" (except by your hardware) number of voice mailboxes. Three types of mailboxes are available: standard, information-only and fax-on-demand.
Answers calls "24-7", after normal business hours, when you are away, and can be setup to page you. Its a full-featured, low-cost voice mail & fax solution designed especially for small office or home environments. MessageCenter Pro retails for $69.95, and includes a free copy of FAXstf Pro (which retails for $59.95).

The requirements as stated in the User's Guide are: Macintosh PowerPC, System 7.6.1 or later, analog telephone line, 4 MB free RAM, PlainTalk microphone, SoundManager 3.0 or later, supported voice capable modem.

I do not have the Caller ID service, so Caller ID features were not reviewed.

The CD contains a Read Me First! folder, a Quick Start Guide folder, a HotFax MessageCenter Installer, and a FAXstf Pro Installer. The Read Me First! folder contains three pages of release notes in SimpleText format that address issues that came to light after the manual was published. The Quick Start Guide folder contains a six page .pdf file which is really a set of reference sheets rather than a quick start guide. A "quick start guide" should be a recipe of step by step instructions to get up and running. This document, instead, contains pages such as "Quick Reference Card," "Sample Mailbox Hierarchy," "Keyboard Shortcuts," and a block diagram called "Remote Messaging."

The installation instructions are not available to you until after you install the software . (The installation instructions are in the User's Guide, which is installed by the installer.) This is a Mac. Who needs installation instructions? I just double-clicked on the installer and followed the on-screen instructions for an easy install. I was prompted to restart after installation; three files had been installed in my extensions folder.

The first time I launched the application I was greeted with the message that AppleScriptLib could not be found. Enabling AppleScript and restarting remedied this. Then I got a message that Fax On Demand would not be available unless I installed the Fax software. Fax On Demand is a feature which allows callers to request a fax (a document of your choosing, like a map or a price list) after the MessageCenter Pro software answers your phone.

It was not intuitively obvious to me how to use the software. Perhaps a user having experience with this type application would do better. However, the User's Guide contains an excellent tutorial which had me up and running in short order.

I set up a configuration with three mailboxes: two that accept voice messages and one that provides an announcement only. Each of the three mailboxes has its individual announcement. In addition, I recorded an announcement for the "system" mailbox which directs the caller to "Press 1 for Denny, press 2 for Annette, and press 3 for directions to our house." The announcement audio files were recorded using the standard Mac microphone. A text box is provided with each mailbox to enter the text of your announcement so you can read the text while recording - no need for a paper pad. The text is saved in the MessageCenter Pro database and can be changed in future as necessary.

Using my second phone line I called into MessageCenter Pro to test it. Just as expected, MessageCenter Pro picked up and played the "system" announcement. After several calls I had managed to leave voice messages in the two mailboxes and listen to the announcement in the third mailbox. I then went back to my MessageCenter Pro to retrieve the messages I had left.

Retrieving voice messages is not very intuitive, but the manual again proved useful, and I managed to navigate between the mailboxes, listening to messages, saving some of them and deleting others.

Each individual mailbox presents a list of messages received. Each entry includes who the call was from (caller ID modem required), date and time. The user can highlight an individual message and click the "Play" button to listen to it. After the message is played, a check mark appears in the message entry. The check mark can be removed or reinserted by the user. The message can be forwarded to another mailbox (and the list is updated to show who the message was forwarded to), or it can be deleted. Each mailbox can be password protected to keep other users from listening to messages in your mailbox.

Voice messages can be retrieved remotely by calling into MessageCenter Pro and entering a password during the announcement of the mailbox. You can listen to, delete or forward messages from the remote telephone using keypad entries. When playing a message, MessageCenter Pro prefaces the message with a voice stating the day and time received. On my 233 MHz beige G3 there was an irritating time delay between portions of the preface ("Saturday ... long pause ... nine ... long pause ... thirty-three ... long pause ... am"). I attribute this to my slow processor. People with more current computers should not see this problem.

MessageCenter Pro maintains a log file of calls received which includes date, time, duration, and, if Caller ID is present, the caller's name and phone number. Individual entries in the log file can be deleted.

Summary
Although this software is not particularly intuitive, it is easy to learn and easy to use once learned. MessageCenter Pro is very effective as a voice mail system, and the free FAXstf software is an added bonus. The software package would be a bit overkill for just home use; it is, however, ideal for a home office or small office environment.

Pros

  • Easy to set up and use
  • Cool way to setup and manage voice mail on your Mac
  • Neat features, like a text box which allows you to type your announcement before recording it
  • Good documentation

Cons

  • Requires a lot of processor power
  • Could be more intuitive
  • Confirm delete dialog box irritating after awhile (option to disable dialog would be good)


Overall Rating

4 out of 5 Mice