W hen Microsoft integrated faxing capabilities (Microsoft Fax) into its Windows operating system, many people feared the demise of stand-alone fax programs. Others predicted the popularity of e-mail would curb the use of fax machines. But this hasn't been the case: Faxing is still one of the most popular modes of transmission. With faxing, there's no worry that the attached document will be unreadable, a common occurrence when sending files via e-mail.
Although the fax software field has narrowed, it certainly hasn't disappeared. In fact, Microsoft's move has encouraged the development of more robust fax programs--giving you the ability to do everything from sending and receiving faxes to turning your computer into a full-blown communications center, complete with voice messaging and paging capabilities.
At the most basic level, faxing from your PC saves you the hassle of printing a document and taking it to a fax machine. If you're a frequent traveler and take a laptop on the road, having access to a fax program gives you the ability to receive and send high-quality faxes regardless of whether you have a printer handy. Essentially, any fax machine becomes your "printer"--just send yourself a fax to your hotel's front desk.
Other reasons for employing one of these affordable programs include broadcast faxing, which involves creating one document and sending it to dozens of individuals; and faxing via the Internet, which allows you to send long-distance faxes for the cost of connecting to your ISP. Faxing via your computer also gives you the ability to keep extensive logs of incoming and outgoing faxes, much like the way you track your e-mail messages.
Of course, to use fax software, your PC must be equipped with a fax modem, and if you have voice-oriented telephony features, you'll need a voice-capable modem. All the programs reviewed here run under Windows 95.
Cassandra Cavanah is a Los Angeles freelance writer who has reported on the computer industry for nine years.