NEW YORK _ The personal computer can't make coffee or sharpen pencils but it will soon control nearly every other function in the office.
About 70 office equipment makers will unite today behind Microsoft Corp., the world's largest software company, to make it easier for computers to talk to fax machines, printers, copiers, scanners and telephones.
Their work could radically change the way such machines are used and, the companies hope, lead to greater productivity.
Microsoft has developed software standards that allow the machines to be connected easily and run from a PC that uses the company's Windows operating environment.
A person writing a document on a computer, for instance, could instantly order 100 copies with just a click of his PC's mouse _ instead of printing the document on a printer, walking the print to the copier and making the copies.
"The usage model of certain kinds of office equipment, copiers, fax machines, is a stand-alone usage model," said Ann Palermo, analyst at International Data Corp., a research firm in Framingham, Mass. "That model is going away."
Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates will formally announce the software standards, or interfaces, at a news conference in New York today.
Compaq Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., Ricoh Co., Muratec, NEC, Northern Telecom Ltd. and Xerox Corp. will display products that work with it. Dozens more companies will announce they are developing them.
"We've been working on this for years," Gates said in an interview Tuesday. "We wanted to make sure we had the demos and the critical mass of partners at the time we brought it out."
Xerox, which created an electronically integrated office in the late 1970s but never got it to market, announced its partnership with Microsoft to improve copiers Tuesday.
"What this does is provide the world of PC users with a whole new set of functionality beyond simple printing that they would like," said Paul Ricci, president of the advanced office document services division at Xerox.
Michael Franz, chief executive officer of fax maker Muratec, said the interface would improve efficiency.
"If you get a fax and need to do something with it, change it, go get a copy, you can eliminate several steps," he said. …