Who needs a fax machine anymore? Anyone with a modem probably has the fax software that came bundled with it. But those who have divorced themselves from fax machines in favor of PC-based faxing know there are downsides:

  • While it’s easy to send a fax at will, receiving means leaving the computer and fax software running, possibly tying up a phone line.
  • Incoming faxes, saved as bitmaps, take up a lot of space on the hard drive.
  • While you may be successful in weaning some of your correspondents off faxing and onto e-mail, some will persist.
  • There’s fax spam—we won’t even go there.

But it’s technology to the rescue again.

Web-based services are available to free your computer and your phone line, letting you receive faxes as e-mail attachments. An e-mailbox is always “open for business,” meaning you never miss a fax and that you can download at your leisure. A perfect solution for SOHO and busy professionals on the go.

Faxes in the inbox
eFax gives you your very own telephone number—just for receiving faxes. Faxes sent to that number are converted into proprietary graphics files, which are then sent as attachments to your e-mail address. After you download your mail, you read your faxes with the eFax Microviewer utility.

Best of all, the number, the service, and the utility are free. eFax, like many free Web-based services, is advertiser-sponsored, but an inexpensive “Plus” service is also available.

Your assigned telephone number will probably be a long-distance one, so senders likely will incur a charge. According to the FAQ on the Web site, eFax randomly assigns a number. But those who upgrade to the Plus service can choose a toll-free or local telephone number, now available in 16 states. Check the Availability page to see if there’s a local number near you.

Other features of the Plus service, which costs $2.95 a month plus a usage fee of 5 cents per 30 seconds of connection, allow you to use eFax to send faxes and convert faxes into text using Optical Character Recognition (OCR).

A new eFax service allows free voice mail to also come to the same number. eFax works with Windows, Macintosh, UNIX, Linux, and WebTV systems.

Faxing around the globe
JFAX.COM Personal Telecom , a competitor to eFax, offers a similar service with enticing extras. Not only can you receive faxes and voice mail by e-mail, you can listen to your voice mail and e-mail messages over the phone. And, oh, yeah, you can send faxes too. All for only $12.95 per month plus usage fees.

The free version of JFAX offers a free personal phone number for receiving faxes and voice mail. Fax sending is a Plus service ($2.95 a month for the Free Plus service, plus usage fees). Users of the Personal Telecom service can do all that plus manage their faxes, e-mail, and voice mail over the phone by dialing a toll-free number.

JFAX Personal Telecom users can fax wirelessly using a Palm VII. And they can choose their local numbers from 85 areas in North America, Europe, and Asia.

JFAX also offers corporate messaging solutions for groups of users.
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Onebox is all it takes
Onebox.com does it all for free: free voice mail, e-mail, and faxes and a free local phone number. Actually, everybody in your area using Onebox.com has the same number. What you get individually is your own four-digit extension.

Wondering if you’ve got any messages? You can check the Web site, or pick up the phone and call to see if faxes or e-mail messages are waiting. Or, if you’re an ICQ user, you can get instant alerts when messages arrive.

More fax

  • Don’t like the fax send/receive software that came with your computer, or maybe you didn’t get any at all? Check out the offerings from ElectraSoft . Among the programs available for download are FaxMail Network for Windows and 32bit Fax.
  • AT&T’s Web to Fax servicelets users broadcast faxes to multiple recipients without stepping away from the PC.
  • ZipFax touts advertiser-sponsored e-mail-to-fax service.

And that’s what I’ve seen worth citing this week.

Lauren Willoughby is a Web editor at The Courier-Journal newspaper in Louisville, KY, where she also writes the weekly “Technophobe” column. At night she turns into an online auction junkie. When she’s not spotting deals on refurbished 486s, she’s reading a science fiction novel.