Just as plain fax paper replaced thermal fax, multifunction fax machines are set to replace the traditional stand-alone fax. Office equipment companies including Panasonic, Hewlett-Packard, Canon and Ricoh, with its all-digital Aficio system, are consistently launching new products with added functions and capabilities and better performance. Prices are dropping at the same time. One of the main virtues of multi-function equipment is that its compact design makes it particularly suitable for small, cramped offices. Vendors say the modular design makes it more reliable and easier to maintain should it break down. As well as its small size and minimal maintenance, multi-function equipment usually connects to a PC. A new trend is that it comes complete with a built-in interface, adding to its ease of use. Canon's latest multi-function fax, the MultiPASS 10, has all these advantages. Its vertical design gives it a very small footprint and it has six functions, including copier, printer, scanner and optional telephone and answering machine. At the heart of the machine is the MultiPASS software, jointly developed by Canon with United States-based software house MultiPASS. It was originally installed in Canon's first generation of multi-function fax machines, the B360. In addition to being upgraded to Windows 95, the new version of MultiPASS comes with a phone book holding up to 40 numbers. Used as a stand-alone fax, the MultiPASS 10 has 47-page memory to store incoming faxes or queue-up outgoing ones. It also features speed dialling and one-touch dialling for memorised numbers. Documents can be scanned and retrieved on a PC for further editing, or can be copied. But when used as a printer the MultiPASS 10 becomes unique, although it still lacks colour. Canon planned to launch another model with colour printing before the end of the year, Louisa Yu, product marketing executive at JOS Telecom, said. Canon's MultiPASS is a Bubble Jet printer, a technology Canon pioneered about 10 years ago. Although ink jet and Bubble Jet are similar in principle, Canon claims its technology - which uses a heating process rather than a mechanical process as in ink jet - makes it easier to control printing and provides better quality. However, Bubble Jet printing usually implies higher running costs. Fans of Bubble Jet technology will also like the MultiPASS for its small footprint, good looks, true multi-function capabilities and attractive price, recommended at $5,980. It is distributed through dealer channels such as Broadway and JosMart.