File attachments go wireless

By Tom Spring, PC World |  Development

Combating attachments, the scourge of the wireless world, Onset Technology is introducing Metamessage, a wireless service that promises to display faxes, Web pages, and more than 25 different file types on wireless e-mail devices through a conversion tool.

A simple .xls, .doc, or .pdf attachment can cripple even the fiercest of wireless warriors. That's because file attachments are difficult to view on a myriad of data-friendly cell phones, handheld devices, and e-mail-ready pagers. Metamessage handles the problem by converting Web pages, faxes, and attachments into textual e-mails.

The Metamessage technology isn't new, but its availability with wireless services is, and Onset hopes it will reach more mobile professionals. It competes with offerings by Equinox and Astata, and PDA software applications such as Documents To Go from DataViz, which let you view and edit attachments on a Palm. Onset positions its tool as the complete solution.

Conversion Options Offered

Metamessage is now available in three tiers of service. For $8 monthly, you get an unlimited number of attachments converted into text e-mail messages. For $12 monthly, you get the added capability of forwarding e-mail and attachments to the fax machine of your choice. And for $15 monthly, Onset assigns your wireless device a fax number so it can receive and display faxes.

Onset is also targeting the enterprise with Metamessage Conversion Server software. Pricing starts at $3000 for a 20-seat license, and a license for each additional 10 users costs $500.

The enterprise tool brings the conversion mechanism to a company site, but it works essentially the same way as Onset's service. When your wireless device gets an e-mail or fax, it typically can't be displayed. Using Metamessage, you simply forward the e-mail and attachment to a Metamessage Conversion Server, which uses optical character recognition (OCR) to convert the attachment into a text message. Then, Onset returns the converted text message to you.

The conversion server can also forward the attachment to a fax machine, which prints the original document in its native file format (not the converted text format).

Hands-On by a Wireless Warrior

I previewed a trial version of the service using my RIM 850 Wireless Handheld device and wasn't entirely satisfied. A service is distinguished not only by what it can do, but how well it performs the promised tasks.

Standard Microsoft Word for Windows documents worked extremely well using Metamessage. When e-mail showed up in my wireless in-box, I simply forwarded to a Metamessage e-mail address. E-mail was converted and returned in under a minute. But the more complicated the document's layout, such as Adobe Acrobat files and Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, the more garbled the returned text document.

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