One aspect of the telephony domain that has been absent from the Skype ecosystem has been the ability to fax documents via Skype. Fundamentally, sending a fax is an asynchronous one-way activity that has "ridden" the phone network to transmit a document to a device that is able to decode the fax signal back into a readable paper document. Skype itself has traditionally allowed document exchange via the file transfer feature; however, it does not address the issue of sending a document to a destination without Skype access or sending "executed" documents in legal transactions. Even for those who have a fax machine in their home office, sending a fax while traveling can be a challenging (and usually somewhat expensive) experience.
PamConsult, publishers of the pioneering Skype Extra, Pamela, this week launched a beta version of their forthcoming fax utility, PamFax which will be available as a Skype Extra. PamFax makes faxing a document from any broadband-connected PC a relatively straight forward experience:
- Designate the document to be sent
- Enter the recipient information (multiple recipients allowed)
- Select a cover page
- Enter the cover page message
- Select notification methods: Skype Chat, SMS and/or email
- Pay for the fax
- Option: Preview the fax
The fax is then sent, followed by receipt of the selected notifications in, say, a Skype Chat window, an email message and/or an SMS message.
During the process:
- PamFax will only open if you have Skype running on your PC
- You may designate the document to be sent in multiple ways
- Browse for the document from the PamFax client
- Select PamFax as a "SendTo" destination in the Windows Explorer right click menu
- Select the PamFax button inserted into the MS Word or MS Excel toolbar
- On the recipient information screen there is an option to view the destination location on Google Maps. Not terribly granular but it provides the location to within, say, a North American area code.
- Payment is executed via deductions from your Skype Credts
- When you select the "Pay and Send" button on the "Pay for the Fax" screen, you are sent to the Skype payment page in your web browser where, as would happen with any other e-commerce site, you are presented with an invoice, an option for inserting promotion codes and a "Buy Now" button.
- If you do not have sufficient Skype Credits, you can navigate to the Skype Credits purchase page (requires your Skype login information) and buy Skype Credits through the same Skype transaction engine used to buy SkypeIn, SkypeOut and Skype Pro services. If linked to PayPal you will also have to login into your PayPal account.
PamFax is accompanied by your own individual PamFax Portal - a web-based utility that logs your faxes, stores your default settings (cover page, sender information, notification settings) and provides a rate table.
Rates vary by destination country and can run from â‚¬0.17 per page to most European and North American destinations to â‚¬1.28 per page to many Middle Eastern, African and South American countries and â‚¬1.59 to unlisted countries (confirm via the rate table). Prior to sending a fax and even approving payment, you are provided with the cost of the fax.
Having been a beta tester there are still a couple of features I would like to see in forthcoming versions:
- acceptance of fax numbers from Microsoft Outlook
- adding a fax number to a Skype user profile (which would probably require some coordination with Skype itself).
- configure PamFax as a Windows printer driver option
In summary, after many years of fighting with WinFax and other PC telephony client installations and configurations, PamFax does provide a simple means to transmit faxes from your PC while on the road or any situation where the clarity and accuracy of document provided by a "direct to fax" process that bypasses scanning "fuzzies" is required.
Interesting to note is that, as for using actual Skype features, PamFax only uses Skype Chat for notifications and the Skype Extras Publishing Studio for both hosting the application, managing the digital rights licensing and providing the e-commerce engine.
Note: according to this FAQ, during the beta phase, PamFax is only available to Skype users outside Canada and USA.