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I have Windows XP. Would I be able to send and receive faxes, and if so how do I do it? Would I need new hardware?
I find myself dealing with this on a semi-regular basis. There are some industries that are still using FAXes as a primary means of doing business. Seems like "old technology" to me, but I'm apparently not about to change my bank's mind.
The good news is that there are several approaches, many of which don't require any additional hardware - depending, of course, on your needs and what hardware you already have.
Input and Output
First, we need to "input" whatever it is you want to FAX. If you mean to FAX existing paper documents, much like a real FAX machine, you're probably going to need a scanner. I'm partial to the HP multi-function devices that are printer and scanner combined. Using your scanner you can capture images of the pages of the documents you want to send. Typically you'd save them as ".jpg", ".png", or ".tif" graphics images - they are, after all, just a "picture" of the document page - or perhaps you'd use a utility to assemble them into a document such as a ".pdf" file.
Now, if you don't need to actually scan existing documents, say you're planning on FAXing documents that you're creating on your computer, you may not need a scanner at all. It may be quite enough to be able to save your document from your word processor for use by the FAX software we'll talk about in a moment.
There's one "gotcha" to going scannerless: signatures. Quite often the whole point of a FAXed document is to sign it. While there are (questionable) workarounds, it typically means signing a physical piece of paper and then scanning that signed document in order to FAX it back.
It kind of goes without saying, but you probably also want a printer. Unless you plan on simply keeping all your FAXes on your PC only, or you never plan to print anything in order to sign it and FAX it back, you'll want some kind of output device. That's one of the reasons I like the HP multi-function devices - a printer and scanner combined gets you both parts of the equation. But in many cases you'll already have a printer, and there's no reason not to use it.
"Assembling" your FAX
A FAX is nothing more than a document. So if you're creating your document from scratch, entirely in a Word processor, for example, then you're done. Save the document, and you're ready to FAX it.
On the other hand, if you're scanning pages into your computer, you've got a collection of images that you somehow need to "assemble" into a single document to be FAXed. I typically do one of two things:
Scan the pages individually, and then create a document in my Word Processor in which I place them. The first page of my document might be a FAX cover sheet, and then I place the images, one per page, as large as the margins allow, in the rest of the document. I then save that as a single document, and I'm good to go. I'll frequently use this approach if I want to use my letterhead, for example.
Scan the pages using a utility such as "Scan2PDF". Utilities such as this drive your scanning software, collect the images that you scan, and then allow you to save the collected images as a single ".pdf" file. I use this approach both to save documents in general, but when I'm about to FAX a paper document without any on-computer modification.
Sending a FAX
There are two, basic, approaches to the final step of sending your fax.
Using your Fax Modem - If your computer has a dial-up modem, then it's very likely that it is FAX compatible. With FAX software, including the FAX software that comes with Windows, you can typically just print "to" the FAX device, and the software will then pop up and ask you what number or address book entry to send it to. You'll need to be plugged into a working phone line, and understand how to dial the number (local or long-distance, any prefixes required and the like). But it typically "just works".
Unfortunately the FAX software that is included with Windows is less than ideal. If you're going to do this with any regularity, I'd recommend investing in a full blown FAX package such as WinFAX Pro, which I used myself for many years.
Using an on-line service - I've switched away from using my own FAX modem, and am now using an on-line service from MaxEmail. To send a FAX, I log into my account, upload the document I want to FAX, tell it where to go, and push a button. The service does the rest. Naturally it's not free, but as we'll see in a moment it's significantly less expensive than my prior alternative.
Receiving a FAX
Once again there are two fundamental approaches that mirror the sending options.
Using your Fax Modem - Using a package such as package such as WinFAX Pro, you can receive FAXes on your PC. The "trick" is simply that it has to know when to answer the phone. If you're sharing your regular voice phone line, you'll have to manually tell the program "receive now" when you get a FAX call. If you're running a business, and you want a dedicated FAX number, you'll need to get that extra line from your phone company, and route it to the PC you have set up to send and receive FAXes. This is exactly what I did for many years.
Using an on-line service - As I mentioned, I now use a service, in my case MaxEmail. For a small monthly fee I have a dedicated FAX number, and when a FAX is received it is emailed to me as a ".pdf" file. I don't have to worry about FAX modems, additional phone lines - or even being at home to receive a FAX.
The cost of the FAX service is significantly less than the cost of the dedicated FAX line I used to have. Ultimately it's more flexible and reliable than my prior solution, and if you do moderate amounts of FAXing, a service is my bottom line recommendation.
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