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SMALL BUSINESS | BUSINESS TOOLS / Software Technology
and New Products to Help Your Company

Despite Forecasts, Internet's a Fax Helper, Not a Fax Killer

November 04, 1998|LAWRENCE J. MAGID | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

I used to think that the Internet would replace the fax machine as the primary source of business-to-business communications. But despite the growing use of e-mail, the fax machine is alive and well in businesses throughout the world.

Faxes aren't being shoved aside; in fact, the Internet is now being used to enhance business faxes. There are numerous services, software programs and even hardware devices designed to utilize the Internet to make it faster, easier and cheaper to send and receive faxes.

While standard fax machines are easy to use and ubiquitous, they do have limitations. One is privacy. In many offices, incoming faxes can be seen by anyone who walks by the fax machine.

Another problem with standard faxes is that they don't follow you when you travel. If a fax comes to your office in Santa Monica, it will have to be re-faxed to you if you happen to be on a business trip in Chicago or working from home in North Hollywood.

Yet another drawback to faxes, especially in home-based offices, is that you need either a dedicated incoming fax line or a machine that can distinguish between a voice call and a fax call and route it appropriately. You also tie up a phone line and incur toll charges for faxing beyond your local calling area.

Another problem is fax management. You have to make sure that they feed through the fax scanner properly, and if there's a busy signal or a problem at the other end, you have to stick around to resend the fax until it gets through. If the transmission is interrupted, you still pay the phone charges plus the cost of sending it again.

The Jfax service (http://www.jfax.com) addresses these problems by routing incoming faxes to your PC's e-mail inbox instead of a fax machine.

When you subscribe to Jfax, you're given a local phone number that people can use to send you faxes. Whenever someone sends a fax to that number, it is immediately turned into a graphic file and sent to you as an attachment to an e-mail message.

To view the file, you need Jfax Communicator software (for Windows, Mac and Unix), which you can download for free from the Jfax Web site. With most e-mail programs, all you do to view the fax is click on the file-attachment icon that comes up when a fax arrives in your e-mail program. That brings up the Jfax software that you use to view, print or annotate the fax.

There is a $15 startup fee plus $12.95 a month (for 200 incoming pages), which is a pretty good deal when you compare it to the cost of a phone line, a fax machine and fax consumables.

Jfax is especially handy if you travel or work in more than one location. Unlike a stationary fax machine, your e-mail follows you so you can retrieve your faxes wherever you are.

The service can also be used to send faxes. When you install the Jfax software, it creates a virtual printer called Jfax Send. From within a word processor or any other program, you can use the print function to send a fax anywhere in the world. Once you "print" the fax to a file, the software takes you to your e-mail program, where you type in the destination as phonenumber@jfaxsend.com. The file is sent by e-mail to the Jfax server, which faxes it to the number.

If there's a busy signal or a problem on the other end, Jfax keeps trying until it gets through or gives up. You get $12 worth of outgoing fax credit when you sign up for Jfax. After that you pay 5 cents per 30 seconds of transmission time (approximately one page) for U.S. domestic faxes. The rate for international faxes depends on the country but is commensurate with long-distance rates.

Your Jfax phone number can also be used as a voicemail service. Incoming voice messages are sent to you via e-mail as a sound file that the Jfax software can play back through your PC's speakers. If you're not able to retrieve your messages via e-mail, you can call an 800 number and retrieve them over the phone for 25 cents a minute. You can use that same 800 number to have Jfax read your e-mail to you.

If you just want to send outgoing faxes via the Internet, you can reduce your monthly access charge and avoid the $15 start-up fee by using the FaxAway (http://www.faxaway.com) service. FaxAway's per-minute charges are about the same as Jfax, but the service charge is only $1 a month.

FaxSav (http://www.faxsav.com) offers a variety of services, including broadcasting faxes to multiple locations. FaxSav also offers a service that lets specially equipped fax machines send regular faxes via the company's server.

Panasonic offers a set of "IQ Fax" machines starting at $299 for the KX-FP250. They work like regular fax machines except that an "IQ" option allows you to send the fax to the FaxSav service bureau to be retransmitted to its destination at a cost, for international faxes, that is usually cheaper than sending it yourself. As with Web-based services, you pay only if the entire fax goes through.

For a listing of other Internet fax services, including international services that you can use for free, point your Web browser to http://www.savetz.com/fax/.

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Lawrence J. Magid can be reached via e-mail at magid@latimes.com.

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