Personal Productivity - Fax From Anywhere
by Daniel Janal
"What's your fax number?" seems to be the catch phrase of the 1990s among business people. If you have a computer, you don't need to buy a fax machine to jump on the fax bandwagon. All you need is a modem, a phone line, and software--and perhaps an account with an online service like MCI or CompuServe.
Like a fax machine, most computer alternatives can
* Send any ASCII, graphics, or binary file
* Keep a directory of people you send faxes to
* Provide a transcript of faxes you have sent
* Broadcast faxes to groups of people in your directory, so you don't have to retype all the information
* Redial the number if the recipient's machine is busy
However, these alternatives do have drawbacks. Software and online solutions won't receive faxes. Hardware solutions will eat a lot of disk space and could monopolize your computer. In all cases, if you want to transmit hardcopy, such as newspaper articles and contracts, you'll have to buy a scanner.
Here is a look at several popular alternatives to help you join the fax vanguard
Online services, like MCI and CompuServe, will send your ASCII document to any fax machine. You establish an account with the files, and provide the recipient's fax number. The service will send the file to the fax machine.
CompuServe Information Services (CIS) charges a $7.95 monthly connect charge, for which you receive a nine-hour credit for basic services (including faxes). After the nine-hour credit is exhausted, CompuServe charges $0.75 for the first 1000 characters faxed and $0.25 for each additional 1000 characters. Joining the service costs $39.95 (free memberships are available with several modem and software packages). CompuServe can send ASCII files only and can't broadcast faxes.
With MCI, you pay only the cost of sending the message inside the U.S. There's no annual fee or startup charge. And with MCI you can broadcast faxes.
On the GoFAX from Ibis Software is a software alternative. You send the files to a service bureau, as you do with MCI and CIS, which in turn transmits the files to the recipient. But unlike MCI and CIS, On the GoFAX will transmit virtually file format, including pictures and spreadsheets.
Mastering the software takes about ten minutes. You need only seven keystrokes to navigate through the system. The phone call is free, but your credit card will be billed $2 for each page.
On the GoFAX saves you time on file conversions. Imagine having to spend several minutes converting a file and then hearing the busy signal when you finally reach the recipient's line. You'll have to do it all over again later--with no guarantee that the line will be free then. A system that doesn't require file conversion has a major advantage over hardware systems, which tie up your machine while converting text and graphics files.
If you want to receive faxes as well as send them, you must have a fax card and software. Consider the Frecom Fax96 from Fremont Communications, which allows you to send and receive faxes directly through its combination of fax/modem and software. One caveat: Most fax/modems are not regular modems. Unless you see a statement on the box that the modem and a standard modem, it won't let you sign on to your favorite online service to send E-mail. The Frecom Fax96 has both modem and fax/modem, thus freeing a slot on your machine.
The hardware alternative is less expensive than a fax machine. The Frecom Fax96 costs about $150, discounted from $250. Another advantage is that you will receive the file into your computer, so you can print the fax onto plain paper instead of flimsy fax paper offered by fax machines.
Each system offers advantages and disadvantages, so determine what your needs are. If you send only ASCII files, MCI does the job at the lowest price. If you send many graphics files, then the On the GoFAX software might be the way to go. If you need to send and receive, the hardware option is most viable. In any case, if you can't afford a stand-alone fax machine, let your computer do the dialing.