The Complete Communicator. (communications software and hardware) (Hardware Review) (Evaluation)
by Richard C. Leinecker
If I didn't have a PC, I'd buy one just so I'd have something to plug The Complete Communicator into. Talk about a perfect communications solution for home businesses: In one package you get a modem, a fax machine, and a voice mail system. At a reasonable price--$499 list--the software that drives it adds features with which dedicated machines can't compete. And it runs in the background so you can use your computer, even while it's busy working.
While you don't have to be a technician to install the hardware and software, a little practical experience will come in handy. I tried it on three different systems: a 286, a 386, and a 486. Only my 486 wouldn't cooperate. That's because The Complete Communicator needs to be set to COM1 or COM2. The 486, a newer computer, has two serial ports built into the mother-board, and they can't be disabled or changed. If you've got a newer model computer, this might be a problem that only a technician can solve. Fortunately, there's an included program called COMCHECK, which looks at your system and tells you which ports are taken. That takes the guesswork out of the installation.
There are two versions of the software, DOS and Windows. In my opinion, they're a study in contrasts. They have all the same stuff; even the structure of menus and program flow are the same. But the DOS version uses function and cursor key menus and dialogs. That kind of interface went out five years ago. It beeps at you and flashes messages when you do something wrong.
The Windows version of the software is slick and state-of-the-art. Everything takes advantage of what Windows is good at--making user interfaces seem natural. All you do is pull down a menu or click on a button for almost every selection.
I loved setting up voice mail. It's about a million times more professional than an answering machine, in my opinion. After I figured out how to make it work, I set up mailboxes for my wife and two kids. They had a blast. For about two hours they called from our second phone, left each other messages, and then went to the computer and listened.
You can set up as many mailboxes as you need. They're configurable for a variety of situations. They can have password protection and can be limited to a fixed number of messages and greetings so that you don't run out of storage space if you've got a lot of mailboxes.
Beyond all of the basics, there's some real power. Any of the mailboxes can forward messages to another number. The mailboxes can also be accessed from remote locations--not just to listen to messages, but to update greetings, too.
If your company board meeting is next week, you can set the voice mail for outbound reminders to the members. Using the phone book option, you can enter the names and numbers, then set the date and time. The software will call everyone in your phone book group and deliver your message.
The Complete Communicator significantly simplified my fax work. Every time I send a fax at work, I have to go through several steps. First, I write a document with a word processor. Then, I print it on my printer. Finally, I walk upstairs and fax it to its destination. Well, those days are over. Using RapidFAX from inside Windows rolls all of those steps into one. I simply write documents with Microsoft Write (any Windows word processor will do) and configure the printer for the fax board. Then, every time I print, it's sent out over the fax board.
One nice thing about RapidFAX is that I didn't need the manual to figure out how to use it. I did, however, have to read the manual to find out about the advanced features. Just as with voice mail, you can send groups of faxes automatically. This is a telemarketer's dream.
Incoming faxes are received automatically. You might hear some noises from the board; otherwise, it works in the background. It does occasionally slow things down during disk access. Once the fax has been received, it can be viewed on the screen to save trees or printed on your printer for a hardcopy.
There's nothing remarkable about the modem feature, except that it's part of the package. That means you won't have to occupy another slot in your computer or worry about another COM port. I'm online almost every night, so this part of the board gets a real workout. It performs flawlessly.
The Complete PC recently introduced a separate version of The Complete Communicator called The Complete Communicator Gold, which does everything the original does and more at a list price of $699. It features a 9600-bps data modem, and it includes the capability to use caller ID, displaying the number of an incoming caller on your computer screen.
The Complete Communicator has an appropriate name. It's a comprehensive package for home and small business communications. If you're trying to run a business out of your home or your business is growing, seriously consider this small piece of hardware for a big-time boost. IBM PC or compatible; 640K RAM; CGA, EGA, VGA, or Hercules; hard drive with 2MB free; 5 1/4-inch high-capacity floppy drive; standard analog telephone line (Windows version requires 80386 compatible, 2MB RAM, Windows 3.0-compatible monitor, hard drive with 4MB free, 5 1/4-inch high-capacity floppy drive, Windows 3.0 or higher)--$499 (package includes DOS and Windows versions) THE COMPLETE PC 1983 Concourse Dr. San Jose, CA 95131 (800) 229-1753 (408) 434-0145 Circle Reader Service Number 351