I’m not a fan of faxes. I fully admit they’re useful on occasion, when the source material is on paper, or when a form must be filled out in pen and returned, often with a signature. But as a technology, fax has always bothered me, since it usually generates more paper than would otherwise be necessary. But, like it or not, being able to send and receive faxes remains an integral part of doing business today, so Tonya and I own a fax machine. It’s acceptable for sending faxes when a PDF in email won’t do, but we’ve never liked receiving faxes on it, since the print quality is lousy and, more important, allowing it to answer a phone line is always cause for annoyance, particularly given that it’s necessary so infrequently.
Long ago, we solved this problem by signing up for an eFax Free receiving account; it accepted faxes and sent them to me as TIFF-F attachments to email messages (see "Rejiggering Personal Voice Communications" in TidBITS-593). Because the account was free, it also meant that eFax could (and did, frequently) send me advertisements to support the service. The ads were annoying, but the account was free, and for our limited fax reception needs, the price was right.
At some point, however, eFax presumably realized that free accounts weren’t worth as much as paid accounts, and they increased their efforts to encourage me to start paying for an eFax Plus account for $13 per month. Since the comparison was with putting up with the annoyance of managing incoming faxes on our existing fax machine for free, I politely ignored their messages. Eventually, though, eFax must have decided I wasn’t worth the effort anymore, and cancelled my account. In theory, I could have tried to sign up for a new eFax Free account, but at least when I read the fine print just now, it would have been a violation of their customer agreement, which states that a customer is limited to a single eFax Free account, that you couldn’t receive more than 20 pages in month, and that you’d have to use whatever random area code you were assigned. I didn’t care about the area code, but I wasn’t sure if signing up after they’d canceled my legacy account would be kosher, and if I were to receive more than 20 pages in a month, I’d have to upgrade the account or have it automatically cancelled. No thank you.
Enter MaxEmail — After looking around for another free fax reception account, I decided that there either was no such beast anymore, or that if one did exist, it would be too onerous to use due to intrusive advertising or other restrictions. The fee-based service that floated to the top of my research next was MaxEmail, which offers a Lite service option that provides reception of up to 500 fax pages per month for $15 per year. The $9 per month MaxEmail Plus provides additional features such as being able to pick your area code, but MaxEmail Lite does all I want, and it does it well.
MaxEmail’s standard features include:
Delivery in PDF format instead of TIFF-F, which was always difficult to work with given that GraphicConverter was the only utility I had that could see multiple pages in TIFF-F files. TIFF-F is also an option with MaxEmail, but PDF has been much easier to deal with.
Delivery to up to five email addresses, which makes it possible to have Tonya receive incoming faxes as well, so I don’t become a bottleneck on her work.
Delivery options that allow for attaching the fax to email, sending just a notification message with a link to the fax on the Web, and alerts for pagers and cell phones. Bandwidth isn’t a problem for us, but Tonya prefers the notification option.
A Receive Activity Log that shows faxes I’ve received in the last month, and lets me resend them to myself or to forward them to another email address. I haven’t had to use this feature, but I could easily see wanting it if something went wrong with the email message containing the original fax. For an extra $2 per month, MaxEmail will hold onto all faxes for a year.
I’ve been extremely happy with MaxEmail so far because it has just worked. Whenever I’ve expected an incoming fax, it has appeared in my email promptly, and printing the PDFs when necessary has never been a problem. Since the incoming faxes are attachments in email messages, I can archive them like any other email message, though I do change the editable Subject field in the message in Eudora so I don’t have to puzzle over what "1 page MaxEmail fax from 123456790" might have been later on.
If you’ve been looking for a way to bring faxes into the email world, or just a way of freeing up a phone line, check out MaxEmail.