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Internet breathes life into an office dinosaur
GERRY BLACKWELL

There are two types of people in the world today: Those who still send and receive faxes and those who don"t. Those who don"t tend to think those who do are Luddites. Hello! The Internet? E-mail?

But those who do still rely on faxes, such as marketing consultant Pavla Selepova, president of Ottawa-based MiroMetrica Inc., know that faxing is still an essential communications tool -- especially for small businesses.

Which is why a couple of years ago, Ms. Selepova started using MyFax, an inexpensive Internet fax service from Protus IP Solutions Inc.

If you thought fax was a dying technology, consider that Ottawa-based Protus now has more than 100,000 MyFax and other fax-service customers, sending and receiving about 780 million fax pages a year. And the number of fax pages sent per user is increasing.

To the uninitiated, Internet faxing may sound like a messy complication to a familiar low-tech tool. In fact, it simplifies everything.

For example, MyFax gives Ms. Selepova a dedicated, toll-free fax number. When someone faxes her, she receives it as an e-mail in her regular e-mail box, with an attachment -- a PDF (portable document format) file that she can open on her computer screen using free Adobe Reader software, and print if she wants.

If Ms. Selepova needs to send a document by fax to someone already on her computer, she sends it as an attachment in an e-mail to a Protus address that includes the person"s 10-digit fax number (4165551212@myfax.com, for example). Computers at Protus instantly send the fax out via the regular phone system.

"For me, there"s a lot of convenience," says Ms. Selepova, whose firm helps clients, including public agencies and private sector companies, manage their customer relations. "For one thing, it means not having one more piece of equipment to manage and maintain."

Ms. Selepova typically receives more faxes than she sends, including sometimes large volumes of material submitted in response to customer questionnaires she sends on behalf of clients. So the convenience of receiving faxes in her e-mail box was a big inducement.

"There"s no need any more to have the fax machine on all the time, or paper in it," she says. "And instead of the whole fax printing automatically, you can skip the cover sheet, skip the filler and just print the little piece you need."

Or, just read it on-screen in the e-mail system.

Ms. Selepova says her small business saves money on paper and electricity by using Internet faxing. She still has a fax machine for the odd times when she has to send something that she has only in hard copy. But she doesn"t turn the machine on until it"s needed, which also eliminates the annoyance of junk fax.

She never had a dedicated fax line -- she uses her voice line for fax as well -- but for a small firm, paying $40 or $50 a month for a dedicated fax line, MyFax can be a significant saving. Especially if the company is already paying for the always-on, high-speed Internet connection used by MyFax. The basic service costs $13 a month, which includes sending 100 free pages and receiving 200 pages. (Additional pages are 12 cents each, but you can also pay more per month and get more free pages.)

"That"s the biggest, most obvious saving," says Steve Adams, vice-president of marketing at Protus. "You can get rid of that second line in a home or small office. It also eliminates all long-distance costs -- we don"t charge anything extra for long distance calls."

Toll-free lines are also included in the price, which is a significant benefit to small firms such as MiroMetrica that solicit faxes from outside their local area. Or you can get a local number for most major urban centres in Canada.

Some users with unusual applications may save even more by turning to Net faxing. Long-distance truckers, for example, use MyFax when they"re on the road to send and receive faxes of bids for loads or load confirmations. Otherwise they would have to find an office-services outlet and pay up to $3 a page, Mr. Adams said. Because many truckers already carry laptops and use truck stop Internet connections for other applications, MyFax is an inexpensive solution.

Carmi Levy, a senior research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ont., says the productivity benefits may be even more important than telecom savings. "Fax," Mr. Levy points out, "has become the orphan technology of the modern business environment."

In most businesses that haven"t switched to Internet fax, there may be just one machine for the company, or for a group of workers. To send or receive a fax, staff have to leave their desks and go to the machine, and faxes are often delayed or the machine is tied up because of incoming junk messages. "That has huge productivity impacts for most knowledge workers because it forces them to stop dead in their tracks every time they have to send or receive a fax," Mr. Levy says.

Internet fax largely eliminates that disruption. Ms. Selepova notes that there is no time spent standing by a fax machine waiting for pages to "crawl" out one by one.

Protus allows customers to associate three e-mail boxes with each fax number for receiving (and three mailboxes for sending). In a small office or business, all faxes can be routed to all employees, who can simply delete those not intended for them. Or they could be routed to one person, who distributes them.

MyFax is not the only Internet fax service, of course. Others include eFax from J2 Global Communications, a California firm; Send2Fax from Send2Fax LLC, based in South Carolina; and ClickFax from Chicago-based Data Fabrication Inc.

As well, using an Internet fax service is not the only way to computerize faxing. Anyone using a Windows XP PC can send documents as faxes by connecting a telephone line to a fax modem inside the PC and using fax software included with Windows XP.

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