I hate faxes. When I had a fax machine in my office, I would arrive in the morning and see the accumulation of restaurant menus, insurance come-ons, and other junk that arrived during the night. Plus, I was always running out of the special paper or the ink cartridges would dry out because I would so seldom use it. There is a better way, and I want to review your options with how you can connect your email to your faxing needs.
The idea is a simple one: the Internet fax service provider maintains your fax machine and assigns everything that comes into your "number" to your email inbox. For outbound faxes, you either send to a special email address, or else they supply a special Web or Windows software utility that can send the fax over the Internet. There is no muss, no fuss, and no need for a fax machine.
I like Internet faxing because it has several advantages over ordinary faxes. First, you can make use of private fax numbers, so no one else in your office can see your communications. Remember when someone's confidential memo was shared around the water cooler because it was lying on the fax machine? Those days are over, because the fax never has to be printed out and can be viewed on your PC.
Second, when you are on the road and don't want to share your faxes with your hotel's staffers, Internet faxing makes a lot of sense. Since the fax gets directed to your email inbox, you don't have to worry about where you are when you travel.
So if you are ready to start, take a look at my table comparing the various Internet faxing services. Before you pick your provider, answer the following questions:
First, how much faxing do you need? Each plan has limits on the number of pages sent and received, and it is important to separate your requirements for inbound and outbound faxes. Obviously, match the plan with the quantity that you need. Some of the services are more appropriate for lighter uses, some for higher volumes.
Do any of these received documents require you to sign and fax them back? If so, it might make more sense and certainly would be easier to have a low-end fax machine or a multifunction printer that has faxing as one of its functions for this situation. If most of your faxing originates from a document on your PC, then you can use the service providers' outbound faxing tools.
Do you need special viewing software when you receive a fax? Some of the services only have Windows versions; some don't require anything beyond a Web browser. For example, I use eFax free, which assigns a random fax number to you and is fine for the occasional user (less than 20 pages a month). The free plan requires the eFax viewer to see your faxes. If you pony up more cash for one of the paid plans, you don't need the viewer. Another service, uReach.com, doesn't require a viewer for any of its plans.
Do you want a fax number in a different city? The services all provide for lots of flexibility in the phone numbers that they dole out for you. If you have customers in a different place, you can get a local fax number there, if that is important.
Do you need a toll-free fax number? For some businesses, this is important, and while I wouldn't want to encourage any more junk faxes, there are reasons to have inbound toll-free fax numbers. Some of the services offer these at extra charge, while Docuharbor.com includes a toll-free number in all of their plans.
David Strom is a former editor-in-chief of Network Computing, Tom's Hardware.com, and DigitalLanding.com and an independent network consultant, blogger, podcaster and professional speaker based in St. Louis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.