The Next Do-It-Yourself Mac

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Why use your bulky, outdated, and probably cranky fax machine to send faxes? You can fax directly from your Mac with just a few tools: a scanner, a modem, a phone line, and the faxing capability built into Panther (OS X 10.3). This feature is limited, but once you work around its little issues, it comes in handy.


To use your Mac as a fax machine, you'll need an internal or external modem. Because faxing over IP is not yet feasible, you must use a standard phone line. You'll also need a scanner that's compatible with your Mac running Panther.

Open System Preferences and enable your modem in the Network preference pane. Click on Apply Now. Go to the Print & Fax preference pane, also in System Preferences, and under the Faxing tab, select the Receive Faxes On This Computer option. Fill in the necessary information, and set options for what your Mac will do when you receive a fax: save the fax to a certain folder, send an e-mail alerting you to the fax, or print the fax.

You may want to turn up the sound on your Mac so you can hear the modem sounds as you send faxes (the modem doesn't make sound while receiving a fax).

Finally and obviously, make sure your phone line is plugged into your Mac and your phone jack, even if you usually use that phone line for DSL.

Send Faxes

Let's say you want to fax your clients a paper sketch that you drew while talking to them on the phone minutes ago. First, make it digital. Scan the document using your scanner's included software, Adobe Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, or Hamrick Software's VueScan. Note that Apple's ImageCapture supports only Epson scanners. For the best-quality fax, scan in black and white, and at no higher than 200 dpi (the highest resolution of many fax machines). If your scanner software supports it, save the scanned file in PDF.

Open the scanned PDF file in Preview (in the Applications folder). Then go to File: Print and click on the Fax button at the bottom of the dialog box. In the dialog box that appears, enter the destination fax number in the To field, or click on the person icon next to the To field to get the number from Address Book. (Panther won't pull fax numbers from any other contact manager.)

Be careful not to press the return key while you're typing in this field -- the fax will send if you do. Now, click on the Fax button.

Panther won't tell you when your fax has been sent, but in ten seconds or so, a new item, called Internal Modem, will appear in your Dock. This item shows you the fax's status. You should also hear the modem's characteristic sound.

Receive Faxes

To receive faxes while you're away from your Mac, go to the Energy Saver preference pane and make sure it's set to never go to sleep. However, you must keep your phone line connected to your Mac.

The bad news is that when you receive a fax, Panther's fax feature won't bring up an alert, nor will you hear your modem receive the fax. Panther only puts the fax in whatever folder you selected upon setup. If you've set it to print the fax automatically or send you an e-mail, that's all the alert you'll get. But there is a workaround. Just go to the Finder, locate the folder where you store faxes, control-click on it, and choose Enable Folder Actions. Control-click on it again, and select Attach A Folder Action. In the resulting window, choose Add – New Item Alert.scpt. (For more tips on faxing in Panther, see "Panther Secrets Declassified,"

You've Got Choices

If you want more from Panther's built-in faxing feature, SmileOnMyMac's $30 Page Sender 3.2 organizes your faxes in an interface resembling Apple's Mail, lets you run an AppleScript in response to an incoming fax, and offers many other nifty preferences. And if you're having problems with Panther sending you e-mail when you receive a fax, try Real World Technology Solutions' free FaxEmailHelper 1.2 (   ; Mac Gems, June 2004; -- jennifer berger

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