Fax of Life
Q. I'm sick to death of having to print out documents, then lug 'em over to my antiquated fax machine. I'm sure there's a way to send faxes from my PC, but beats me as to how. Hook me up, my robotic friend.
A. There's not just a way, my humanoid pal. There's a multitude, and some of them are probably sitting on your hard disk right this very second. But the built-in freebies may not be your best faxing solutionmuch depends on what sort of Internet connection you've got, and whether or not you're a frequent faxer.
It's a little-known fact that PCs running Windows XP come equipped with a utility called Fax Console. It's not installed by default, though: You'll have to go to Add or Remove Programs in the Control Panel, then click on Add/Remove Windows Components to take advantage. (The Fax Console will then be available in the Accessories menu.) To fax a document, you just use the Print command to send it to the virtual fax machine. And, yes, it can also receive faxes, as long as your PC is active when the call comes in.
The XP utility is pretty bare-bones, though, so if you're gonna be faxing more than once in a blue moon, it's probably worth it to buy SmartFax 2004 Professional (faxcall.com/smartfax.htm). The $99.95 program syncs up with Outlook or Outlook Express, so you can send and receive faxes just like e-mail. It also offers optical character recognition, which converts squiggly handwritten notes into digital documents.
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The big problem with both of the programs listed above is that they work only with dial-up modems. So if you're rocking, say, a cable modem, then you're out of luck. There's an alternative for broadbanders, though, in the form of several faxing services that'll move your faxes to and fro. Mr. Roboto's pick is jConnect Premier (j2.com), which assigns you a local or toll-free number. When someone sends a document there, it gets forwarded to your machine as an e-mail. And vice versa, naturally, when you fax something out. Think of jConnect Premier, which runs $15 per month, as a faxing middleman for the broadband-equipped. (There's also a free jConnect service, which lets you receive faxes, but not send them.)
An alternative is eFax (efax.com), which varies slightly in price from jConnect Premier; the monthly tab is a bit lower, but the per-page prices for receiving faxes can add up. Check out both websites, if you're so motivated, and try the free trials to get a sense of what's more your style.
Mr. Roboto realizes he's only scratched the surface, as faxing options for PCs abound. For Macs too: The Panther operating system has a fine built-in fax utility, though four out of five robots who fax prefer Page Sender 3.2 (smileonmymac.com). The program is a heckuva lot easier to use than what Steve Jobs and company cooked up, and free upgrades are included in the $29.95 price tag. So if you ever make the switch, you can still dinosaur that Brother fax machine from 1989.
Mr. Roboto had the great privilege to attend the CEDIA Expo (cedia.net) earlier this month, in beautiful downtown Indianapolis. Aside from making the terrible mistake of sampling a bowl of Indiana menudo, your humble narrator also got to test a throng of high-end audio and video gadgetsthe sort of stuff that you see on Cribs, dig? So why should a working stiff like you care? Because there were some bigass TVs on the cheap. Sonyyes, Sonyruled the value roost with a 70-inch rear-projection model, costing a "mere" 10 grand. Not in everyman's ballpark yet, but getting there. Quickly.
Great feedback on a recent column regarding the charlatans who sell digicams near Times Square. David Billotti of the Times Square Alliance (timessquarealliance.org) wrote in to recommend that ripped-off consumers register complaints by dropping a dime to the city's 311 hotline. Who knows? Someday, the Times Square electronics fraudster could go the way of the Times Square paint-huffing hand-jobber.
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