Goodbye Fax Modem

by Bob Seidel

Before we get into today's topic, I did want to comment on the latest in the high definition DVD wars. Warner Bros. has thrown in with the Blu-ray crowd headed by Sony, and most industry pundits are now saying that this move pretty much spells the end of the format wars. What fascinates me is that it took so long - the industry let yet another holiday buying season go by with no decision, and hence no sales. Consumers have been staying away in droves because they justifiably didn't want to buy the wrong unit - the eventual loser. Sales of DVDs themselves (even the old standard definition format) were down, and sales of HD players were dismal.

Hopefully this is now enough to get the two sides to the bargaining table and finally an end to this mess. And about time!

I am writing this column because I just unplugged my US Robotics external Fax modem for the last time. I don't remember when I got it, but it was a long time ago - certainly more than ten years. I have had modems on my PCs since almost the earliest days of the PC; I had one on my TRS-80 back in 1980 or so. In the beginning I used it to dial into bulletin board systems (BBS), and early services such as Prodigy. Since most people now use high-speed Internet services such as Road Runner or DSL, modem use has faded.

Back last July I discussed the purchase of a scanner/printer for my office and that I used an online Fax service to receive Faxes in email. The last use I made of my modem was to send (not receive) Faxes because my service (Faxwave) did not support sending Faxes - only reception. Faxwave recently upgraded their service and now supports Fax sending. You just point to the document on your hard drive and they will send it in a Fax.

Popular Faxing dates back into the mid 70's, but I remember seeing a Fax machine as early as 1965. It used a rotating drum that you had to clip the paper to (one sheet at a time!) and an old style acoustic coupler with rubber cups that you had to put the phone headset into. Not very efficient.

But now at the other end of the cycle, there are alternative methods to Faxing that eliminate the paper and improve quality. First of all, there are a number of document exchange file formats that you can send as attachments to email. You can send PDF documents, or Word documents, etc. As long as the document is in your PC, this is the way to go.

But if you do have to Fax, there are a number of Fax services that will do it for you. I use one called FaxWave (from but if you do your research there are a number of such companies. They give you your own Fax number, which is either a toll-free 800 number or a local number, and when somebody dials in to send you a Fax it sounds and works just like a regular Fax machine. But the beauty is that it sends the Fax image to you as an email attachment. I also set it up to send me a text message alert on my cell phone when I receive a Fax. You can then read the Fax and either file it or erase it. No waste of paper. Of course you can always print the image if you have to. The cost is about $10 per month

But what do you do if you have to Fax a printed form? You have to get an image of it into your PC somehow. This is the job for a scanner. A flatbed scanner will work OK, but only one sheet at a time. If you have a multi-purpose printer/Fax machine with a document feeder, you have your choice - you can either Fax the document directly over the phone line or scan it to your PC. The advantage of scanning it is to save and file it for later and it will probably be a faster process as you don't actually have to wait for the data to be sent over the slow phone line.

Another factor to consider is the resolution of the image. Standard Faxes are 200 dpi (dots per inch), which is a fairly low resolution. When you send a PC file, there is no such limit. Also complicating the quality problem are poor document feeders - it is still fairly common to receive a skewed and hard to read Fax. Do it from your PC and those problems are history.

(Bob Seidel is a local computer consultant in the Southport - Oak Island area. You can visit his Website at or e-mail questions or column ideas to him at For specific inquiries, please call Bob Seidel Consulting, LLC at 278-1007.)