File attachments go wireless

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.

The fax services offered mixed results. Onset assigned a fax number to my RIM handheld, and I faxed it a standard magazine article with a picture and infographic. It appeared with most of the text intact, although the OCR isn't flawless and, of course, the images and chart are deleted.

When I faxed a newspaper article, it didn't come through as cleanly. Metamessage didn't even try to convert it but just e-mailed me a digital image of the fax--not viewable on a RIM device.

I was more impressed when I forwarded an e-mail attachment to a fax machine. Documents produced on a fax machine are of excellent quality. An Excel spreadsheet appeared exactly as it would via a printer. The Web conversion function, however, was still in development when tested.

Metamessage will interest anyone who wants to view attachments without having to deal with lengthy downloads to a wireless device. It may also interest mobile professionals who want to scan an e-mail attachment but don't need to view the entire file immediately.

This story, "File attachments go wireless " was originally published by PCWorld.

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