It happens that I am occasionally the victim of the need to send a fax. Yes, this vestigial technology persists in the slackwater bayous of the internet world. Every printer I’ve owned in the past 15 years has had some kind of proto-fax machine embedded in it, and every one of them has had a dorky and clumsy interface. The Jurassic Period saw the worst case scenario, having to manually punch in the phone numbers on the printer itself, with the printer additionally required to have its own phone line.
But, even if you have advanced into the modern era, and your printer can “fax” via the internet, wait — it’s a document that you have to sign and date and then send. You mean — yes, it’s a Word document, received via email, that you now have to print out, sign, date, stick it onto the printer’s “copy” window, then return to your computer to punch in the phone number and — by this time, it’s Miller time, and you’re ready to bong a gallon. Look up clusterfuck in the dictionary, and this scenario will be one of the definitions.
Some businesses, I know, still use fax extensively. Ordinary folks might send a half-dozen, usually in a legal or financial situation, or sending the office order over to the local deli, which promotes its “with it” status by accepting takeaway orders via fax.
So, what happens when you encounter this PDF form that has to be filled out, signed, dated, and faxed? — and, of course, this is a matter of pressing importance and must be completed and sent immediately.
You print the form, fill, sign, date. With a sigh, you slip the paper onto the copy window and return to your computer. Oh, no. You haven’t installed the “fax” software that came with the printer, because you figured you’d never use it. Oh, man, — haha! Good luck finding that CD! That means a Google, followed by a trip to the printer manufacturer’s web site, a massive download of the bloatware, an interesting experience with Windows Installer … and then, having propitiated the gods with an exceptionally excellent stream of curses, you bring up the software interface, negotiate its arbitrary design quirks, put in your fax number, create a “fax cover page,” and send your fax.
All this reflection on the gentle art of faxing is by way of setup. I am not in the habit of giving free adverts to products, but I’m excepting the rule with a web service called “HelloFax,” that is easily accessible via a browser extension.
Warning. The following description involves the use of technology.
HelloFax is specifically designed to address all the absurdities of the adventures described above.
You upload your uber-important document to HelloFax. You edit it as needed, sign and date it. You create/select an address book entry for the phone number. You click “send.”
Wait … what? How can you … ?
After you create your HelloFax account, you sign a blank piece of white paper, in the manner you would sign a document — your legal signature. You then use your phone’s camera to take a photo of the signature. You upload the photo to HF. On the HF server, the image is processed to make the background transparent. If necessary, you can resize the signature image to make its appearance relative to a document appropriate.
From this point forward, you can sign and fax any document without ever having to approach any machinery, without even leaving your seat.
You upload your document to HF, open it in the HF editor, and insert your signature image in the appropriate location. Since the background is transparent, the signature visually appears to have been the product of pen on paper. You can insert a date, if needed. It also is inserted as an image with transparent background, so you can drag it around into the appropriate position with your mouse.
If you have a document or documents that are resent periodically, you simply open the appropriate item in your “sent faxes” folder in HF, edit as needed, and click “resend.”
You can create and add a coversheet, if desired.
There may be other, similar tools. Adobe has one, which in my observation is clumsy and a PITA to use. I had an account at fax.com for a time, but really, it was not useful for the kind of service provided by HF. And it’s expensive, if you need only send or receive the occasional fax, and don’t use the service more than a few times a year.
HelloFax is not free. In fact, the cost of the full-service solution 1 would not be justifiable for the occasional user, unless you were in some situation in which immediate access to it was an absolute requirement. But, HelloFax allows you a certain number of free faxes, so you can treat it as free, up to that point. This number of freebies has migrated somewhat since I signed up for the service.
The FAQ reports:
The free plan comes with 5 free fax pages. When you run out, it’s only 99 cents / fax for faxes up to 10 pages and 20 cents for every page after. Note, this is just for sending faxes. To receive faxes, you can pick one of the paid plans.
The implication is that you get five free pages, period, and then after that you have to pay (the entirely reasonable) specified fees. However, HF seems to be running promos on some of the cloud services (in my case, Google Drive), and I’ve been faxing with reckless abandon for six months at no charge. 2
Aside from the convenience — I just filled out, signed, dated, and faxed a financial document in less than 5 minutes — HF represents to me a well thought out, and cleanly implemented, process design. Someone analyzed how computer users handle faxes, and realized that it blows chunks. The analyst then went the next step, and asked the money question, “What technology is available to address the pain points in this process?” And, finally, the stroke — instead of yet another special-purpose software application, practically invisible in a sea of such: a web-based service easily accessed via a browser extension. HF integrates the faxing of documents into the computer user’s daily workflow.