Faxing without a computer requires a fax machine and a dedicated telephone line, which can be expensive. Faxing with a computer entails sending huge amounts of bitmapped data, which is a lot slower than sending text-based e-mail or even e-mail with attached files that preserve the fancy formatting.
What's more, computer-based faxing forces you to buy a scanner to fax paper-based documents. For receiving documents, if you want to use a single telephone line for both voice and fax, you need to tell the faxing party to phone you first, so you can instruct your fax software to intercept the next incoming phone call. Or you can use a call-manager product in conjunction with your phone company's distinctive ring feature.
Clunky, clunky, clunky.
That's why I've avoided faxing whenever possible. But there are times when faxes are unavoidable, such as when someone needs to send you a document but isn't computer-savvy enough to e-mail a file attachment or when you need to send a document to someone who doesn't have e-mail access.
In situations like these I would load up WinFax and grin and bear it. But a number of Internet-based fax services have recently come into existence that combine the speed and low cost of e-mail with the ubiquity of faxing. Just as dinosaurs weren't as clumsy as they're commonly perceived, maybe faxing isn't so clunky after all.
For home or small business use, the best Internet-based faxing service I've found is JFax, from Los Angeles, CA-based JFax Communications ( GET-JFAX; www.jfax.com). Here's how it works.
When you subscribe to the service, which costs $12.50 a month plus a $15 set-up fee, you receive the fax number of an in-box hosted by one of JFax's servers. JFax has servers in 50 cities throughout the world.
When someone sends a fax to your in-box, JFax automatically routes it to your regular Internet e-mail in-box, your America Online in-box, or your CompuServe in-box. It shows up as a file attachment. Using a free program called JFax Communicator, which you download from JFax, you view the fax by double-clicking on the attachment from within your e-mail program.
Sending a fax is similar to using a fax program such as WinFax or Microsoft Fax. From within a document, you begin the print procedure, but instead of printing the document to you regular printer you choose the option "JFax Send."
JFax Communicator then loads your e-mail program, creates a file attachment of the document and appends it to an outgoing e-mail message, and places the cursor within your e-mail program's "To:" field. You type in your recipient's fax number followed by "@jfaxsend.com." Your e-mail first goes to JFax's server then to your recipient's fax machine.
You can receive as many as 200 fax pages a month under the basic subscription plan. Outgoing faxes cost about five cents a page within the United States and more for overseas transmissions. But the cost is always less than a fax sent through the phone lines.
LOOK, NO MODEM
With JFax, you still need a scanner to send paper-based documents. But if you have cable Internet access, you may be able to dispense with your modem completely.
JFax fashions itself as a universal in-box. You also can use it as a voice answering machine. People leave voice-mail to you at your JFax phone number, where JFax's server digitizes the sound and creates a file attachment that's sent to your e-mail in-box. When you click on the attachment, JFax Communicator transmits the sender's voice through your computer's sound card and speakers.
A new JFax feature, available to those with a POP3 e-mail account (not to AOL users), lets you retrieve e-mail away from a computer through a phone. A computer-generated voice reads the text of your e-mail messages. Unfortunately, the feature doesn't yet filter e-mail messages, which would let you hear from only those people you need to hear from. JFax says it's working on it.
ALL THE FAX
Other Internet faxing services are set up differently, and depending on your or your company's needs, they might be worth looking into.
These services include GTE DestinationFAX at www.gte-fax.com, PSINet InternetPaper at www.psi.net, FaxSav at www.faxsav.com, Comfax at www.comfax.com, RightFAX at www.rightfax.com, and FAXfree at www.atfax.com.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at email@example.com or http://members.home.net/reidgold.