Fax is dead, right? After all, you don't see ultra-hip Web 2.0 sites trumpeting their fax services, and the Internet in general has surely supplanted the lowly fax machine, hasn't it? And if you do need to fax a document, Mac OS X has fax capabilities built in.
Not so fast. If fax were dead, surely SmileOnMyMac wouldn't waste their time updating their five-year-old fax program PageSender, which they just did. Along with its existing features for sending and receiving faxes, PageSender 4.0 features spam fax filtering, PDF cover pages, direct lookup of numbers from Address Book, font and style control over the cover page text, and an improved preview capability. It's easy to use from the Print dialog, scriptable, and provides oodles of features lacking from Mac OS X 10.4's fax function. PageSender 4.0 requires Mac OS X 10.4 or later. It's $40, and registered users who purchased before 2007 can upgrade for $20; it's free for anyone who bought a copy this year.
(Amusingly, SmileOnMyMac made a special birthday cake for PageSender and then used it to bribe a bunch of kids into singing Happy Birthday to the program. Speaking as a parent, listening to a mother try to get one toddler to use a fork instead of his hands gives the video the ultimate aura of authenticity. And while PageSender may be 5 years old, fax technology itself dates back to 1843.)
I try to use faxes as little as possible, and when I do, I send via our stand-alone fax machine and I receive via MaxEmail (see "Replacing eFax with MaxEmail," 2005-04-04). Curious as to who could really be using PageSender, I asked Jean MacDonald at SmileOnMyMac about it.
She forwarded me the results of a survey they did of 500 random PageSender users. The survey had a 10 percent response rate, and of the responses, half said they definitely saw themselves using faxes in 5 years, a quarter said "probably/maybe/less and less" and a quarter said "no/hope not." The other two questions were: "What do you fax?" and "Why can't it be emailed?"
For the most part, survey respondents agreed with John Baughman of BY'te DESIGN Hawaii, who said that he faxes documents, especially those that need signatures, to groups like governmental agencies, banks, or insurance companies. Others relied on the fax for sending medical records, lab results, construction bid proposals, sketches and art proofs, purchase orders, order confirmations, and more.
More surprising though, was that nearly every respondent talked about how the reason they used faxes was because recipients required faxes. As Walter Kicinski said, "Some people want documents faxed - mostly business applications that may involve forms. We use fax because that is what they want."
Reasons for requiring faxes ranged from organizations that have large centralized fax reception capabilities, easier compliance with the medical HIPAA regulations, lack of email in construction company offices, and some level of added security by eliminating the ISP middlemen. Only a few people said that fax was easier to deal with than email, and in most of those cases, the problem revolved around dealing with file formats, attachment sizes for large graphics, or having to print the received attachment just so it could be signed and faxed back.
In the end, although fax may not be sexy, it's functional. As much as it may be hard for those of us who have spent most of our professional lives in the era of email to realize, large portions of the business world still haven't adopted email for certain types of critical communications. For the form that needs a signature right away, just fax it.
But hey, where possible, let's try to create a technological environment (with better file formats, easy and secure digital signatures, and online forms) that enables these people to wean themselves from 19th century technology, OK? Shoveling coal into the fax machine is getting old.