The first fax machines looked much like current models only bigger—and usually smellier. Each had a telephone handset and a touch-tone keypad for dialing a distant machine. Each had a slot to slide in documents and another where received pages slid out, often a bit damp from the primitive chemical-based printing technology. Today, the fax machine combines several other office functions—a fax modem with a scanner, printer, and telephone set—that would tempt you to tie in your computer, but the standalone fax machine puts all its goodies out of the reach of your computer and its applications.

Today, standalone fax machines survive because, compared to computers, they are easier to use—they have no need for the hassle of clicking through ...

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