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Unbelievably, millions of faxes are still sent and received all over the world each year. Unlike obsolete formats such as cassettes, VHS tapes and floppy discs - the fax machine refuses to go away and remains a service that some businesses still need to have. In this tutorial, we’ll look at ways you can use your Mac to send and receive faxes as well as finding some suitable alternatives!
A Short History Of The Fax Machine
The fax (facsimile) machine as we know it came about in 1964 and was developed by Xerox. Refined in 1966, it was a technological marvel. By using the traditional phone system you could send a copy of a document anywhere in the world to another fax machine. Before then, if you needed a legal document or contract sending to another country - you had to post it.
As time went on, the fax machine became indispensable and for many businesses it was as necessary as a phone. However, during the late 1990s, with the advent of cheap and accessible Internet connectivity coupled with email and computer scanners for less than $50, the fax machine’s usefulness began its decline.
Before then, if you needed a legal document or contract sending to another country - you had to post it.
Why the Fax Machine Is Past Its Prime
The fax machine operates just like a phone. You type in a number and press “dial”. As long as the receiving number has a fax machine, it’ll pick up and the document you need to send will start feeding through your fax machine. If you need to send about 20 pages of a document, be prepared to stand there for a very long time contemplating the universe and everything in it while feeding in page after page. You may have a fax machine that has one of those holders to put multiple documents on but if you’ve ever used them, you’ll know that as soon as you turn your back, the fax machine decides it’d like all the pages at once.
Many businesses would operate a dedicated phone line just for fax purposes. Depending on the size of your business, this proved to be quite costly if you weren’t in need of it on a daily basis. In addition, if you’re dialing internationally, then you’ll likely need to take out a second mortgage before all the pages have sent.
Why the Fax Machine Is Occasionally Needed
There are very few reasons why a fax machine is needed, but they can be very important ones. There are still a lot of legal firms out there that use their computers just for typing. A faxed document is treated the same as a photocopy of an original document by most legal firms. Depending on legal circumstances, a scanned document that has been emailed can have the argument against it that it could have been tampered with (I’ll give you a minute to think why that isn’t any more likely than a tampered fax document).
A faxed document is treated the same as a photocopy of an original document by most legal firms…
Some smaller businesses have been around for a long time and don’t necessarily have the budget to keep investing in new equipment. As the fax machine has been around for so long, it’s likely that many businesses that deal with each other have gotten so used to the technology that it just isn’t seen as a problem. Placing orders for supplies, confirming invoices, and a hundred other similar tasks are all still done by fax for a lot of long-established small businesses. As the saying goes: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
Faxing in the 21st Century
I’m going to detail a few different methods of faxing with a Mac before discussing alternatives for businesses just starting out.
Yes, email provides all the functionality of fax with none of the costs or limitation. You can send a 20 page document in a few seconds, complete with full color photos and even attach audio and video. Most people and businesses have email. Any businesses that don’t operate at least some kind of online communication will find themselves in harder times as the rest of the world becomes ever more connected.
The Apple USB Modem
Up until Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, Apple had been manufacturing a USB modem that was available since 2005. Before 2005, Apple included a 56k modem in all its Mac models. With the introduction of broadband and it’s high level of adoption, Apple removed the modem but made it available as an optional accessory.
Apple’s sold a USB modem for a few years from 2005 but isn’t available any longer (you may have luck on eBay). Or purchase a Mac compatible 56k USB Modem on Amazon.
If you have Mac OS X up to Snow Leopard or below, you can plug the USB modem into your Mac and instantly start using the fax features. To fax a document:
- Print any document and select “Fax” under the list of printers
- From there, you’ll be given options to enter a phone number (or select one from Address Book)
- If you need to add a cover note, tick the box and enter the subject and message
That’s it, pretty straightforward!
Faxing with the Apple USB Modem was surprisingly easy.
But there’s a down side, Apple discontinued the modem a few years ago and OS X Lion and Mountain Lion do not support the modem. There were workarounds for Lion but it’s just not possible in Mountain Lion. If you’re running Lion or above and/or don’t have the Apple USB modem, keep reading!
Printer manufacturers such as HP and Epson have office-specific multifunction printers. As well as scanning and copying, certain models include built-in faxing capabilities. Models such as the HP M1212 (pictured below) are able to scan, print, copy and fax. It’s a standalone fax machine, but connected to your Mac, you can also send and receive faxes directly on your computer.
The benefits over a normal fax machine mean far less paper is wasted as that document you needed to fax can be sent directly from your computer to the multifunction printer, which will send it to the receiver. In addition, faxes can be received directly to your Mac rather than printed out. If you’ve got a signed document you need to send, the multifunction printer can still fax in the traditional way.
The HP M1212 is a multifunction printer that includes a built-in fax machine.
The downside is that it’s still a standalone fax machine. It will still require a dedicated phone line (and the expenses of the call costs) unless you’re prepared to share your main line with it and manage accordingly.
Fax to Email
There are a number of companies that offer a fax-to-email service. One popular popular provider that offers this service is eFax. These services differ in that you don’t send and receive faxes in the traditional sense, you email them. So how does this work? Think of eFax as Skype for faxes. There is usually a service cost that can start from about $10 per month.
Learn about eFax.
Receiving a Fax
When signing up for a service like eFax, you are able to select a phone number in the country you’re based in. When someone wants to send you a fax, they send it to that number and… you get it by email as a PDF! That means no wasted paper and you have an instant digital copy. That digital copy will be on your Mac and in the cloud.
Sending a Fax
Sending a fax is just the same as sending an email to someone. You just create a new email message and attach the document you wish to fax (whether it’s a Word Document or PDF) and then send it to a specific email address. Because services such as eFax work with only a certain number of documents, I’m going to show you how to make sure you can send any type of document as a fax.
Open the document you would like to fax. This can be anything that would be printed. Remember, fax quality is really low so don’t attempt to send photos! Plain text with the occasional graphic will do.
Click Print to bring up the print preview window.
OS X includes a function to automatically convert a file as PDF and attach it to a new email message.
- Click the “PDF” button and select “Mail PDF”. Whether you’re wanting to fax an Excel spreadsheet or Pages document - a PDF file is created of that document and attached to a new email message.
- If you require a cover note, enter some text in the message body (and a subject if needed) and they will be used as a cover note before sending the document.
Now we’ve got our email ready to go, we need to send it. Let’s assume the phone number I want to send it to is (212) 555–5555. With the international dialing code of the USA being +1, we enter firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure to send it from an email address you’ve registered with eFax and the fax will instantly be sent. Don’t worry if the recipient’s number is busy, eFax will keep trying until it’s sent.
When using a fax-to-email service you usually enter text into the main message body if you need a cover note.
Tip: For frequent eFax fax recipients, add their fax email address to Contacts for quick access without needing to remember their number!
Add frequent fax recipients to your Contacts for quick access!
Fax on the move
One pretty awesome feature of a fax-to-email service is that if you’ve got your email account set up on your iPhone or iPad, you can send and receive faxes from it too. If you’re out on business and are waiting for a fax, you’ll still be able to receive them. Likewise, if you’ve got a PDF or Word document you must send as a fax, you don’t need to hope someone is in the office.
Learn more about eFax.
Just the fax, ma’am
Whilst you’re probably wondering if it’s truly worth subscribing to a service you may use a few times a year, there are free services available to allow people and businesses to receive faxes via email. Some such services are Free Fax To Email, Wonderfax and Faxtastic.
These services will provide you with a free phone number that will allow you to receive faxes via email. They work by charging higher prices for those making the fax call and require you to make use of their service at least once every 90 days. Businesses that have no need to fax but still require (or have some contacts that need to) fax documents, it’s worthwhile. However, if you find you’re receiving a fax maybe once or twice a year, it might not be even worth it.
For most people and businesses, the alternative to fax is email, without question. It’s free, easily accessible and has none of the limitations that faxing has. If you can digitize as much of the process as possible and (where available) use alternative methods, it will help move the office world along!