The tech helper: Faxing in the age of e-mail (Feature)
By Jay Dougherty Jan 24, 2011, 2:06 GMT
Washington - The death of faxes has been greatly exaggerated. While e-mail has certainly reduced the volume of faxes sent and received today, the venerable fax simply refuses to disappear entirely. Many companies, after all, still require signed faxes rather than e-mail, and that means you're probably stuck with an old fax machine and perhaps an expensive phone line that you use only occasionally. The solution: move your faxing to the internet and ditch the machine. Read on to learn how.
Q: How do online fax services work?
A: Online fax services that are capable of taking the place of your fax machine provide you with a dedicated 'virtual' telephone number so that people who wish to send you a fax can do so as they always have: simply by calling a normal phone number. When you receive a fax, you'll typically be notified by e-mail, and optionally the e-mail may contain a PDF attachment of the fax itself. And because the phone number is 'virtual,' you don't actually have to have an extra phone line in your home or office, nor do you have to pay for one.
The best internet fax services also, however, allow you to send a fax either from a web form or by attaching a document to an e-mail message and addressing it to the recipient's fax number. For instance, if you have a fax account with the fictitious provider FaxCompany.com, you would probably simply address an e-mail message containing an attachment to FaxCompany.com would recognise the e-mail address from which you sent the fax as a valid account and then send your attachment or e-mail as a normal fax.
Most online fax services will keep records of your sent and received faxes, as well - and offer you numerous amenities that you could never replicate with a dedicated fax machine.
Q: Should I use a free or fee-based internet fax service?
A: Free internet fax services are difficult to find these days. Some of those that appear initially to be free do, in fact, charge a per-fax fee, while truly free services almost always include advertisements on the faxes that you send. Popfax.com (http://www.freepopfax.com) is an example of one such free service. Keep in mind, however, that free fax services normally do not provide you with a return fax number that others can use to send you faxes.
Well-regarded fee-based internet fax services include MyFax (http://www.myfax.com), RingCentral (http://www.ringcentral.com), Nextiva (http://www.nextiva.com), and eFax (http://www.efax.com). Most good internet fax services offer both local and international phone numbers for incoming faxes, as well as a number of monthly or annual plans to accommodate the volume of faxes you send or receive.
Q: Can I just use my computer to send and receive faxes? I was told that there's a Windows Fax program.
A: Yes. If you have a computer with a modem in it (increasingly rare these days), you can turn to a program such as Windows Fax and Scan, which is included free with all recent versions of Windows. This solution is ideal if you send more faxes than you receive. Receiving faxes with such a program is a bit cumbersome because you must have the application running and waiting for an incoming fax. And if you have your computer's fax modem plugged into your normal telephone line, the fax program might answer a regular incoming call with an annoying fax tone.
If you pay for a second phone line that's dedicated to sending and receiving faxes with your computer, you should probably still investigate internet faxing, for two reasons: you'll spend less on internet-based fax services than you will on a phone line, and the services will give you far more control and flexibility over your faxing activities than a PC-based solution.
Q: How can I add my signature to an electronic document that I want to send as a fax from my computer?
A: Create and store your signature digitally, and then paste that signature into a document before sending it off as a fax. If you have a scanner, you can sign your name on a piece of paper, scan it, and then use a paint program such as MS Paint to select the scanned signature and save it as a graphic file.
But there's another method that's suitable for people without a scanner. Log on to My Live Signature (http://bit.ly/1IiENI) and use your mouse to draw your signature into the onscreen box. Once you're happy with the signature, click Create Signature. The site will then prompt you to save your signature to your computer as a jpeg file. You can insert that file into any electronic document.
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