The Windows XP Fax Utility

Windows XP has a fax utility. What is this good for? Is it just a wizard to help me format the fax? Using this utility, do I still have to rely on a separate fax service to get my fax to its recipient?

The Windows XP fax utility lets you send and receive faxes from your PC — you don’t need a separate fax service. You do need a fax modem (which is built into most every PC) with a phone line connected to it.

You didn’t know there was a fax program built into Windows XP? It is located under the Start Menu->All Programs->Accessories->Communications->Fax->Fax Console. (If you don’t see the fax utility listed there, you’ll need to install it: from the Windows Control Panel, choose Add or Remove Programs, then Add/Remove Windows Components. Select the Fax Services checkbox and click Next. You’ll need your Windows XP installation CD on hand to finish the installation.)

The first time you run the fax utility, you’ll see the Fax Configuration Wizard, which lets you set the cover page information (your name, company, and so on) and configure the fax modem. You can set the software to send faxes, receive them, or both. You can set receive mode to manually answer (which is fine if you only receive faxes occasionally, when you’re around to accept them) or automatically (which is OK if you want to leave the computer running 24/7 to accept faxes… and you don’t take other incoming calls on that phone line.)

The Fax Configuration Wizard reveals a cool feature for receiving faxes: you can have it automatically print incoming faxes as well as store them on the hard drive. The former choice works like a traditional fax machine: come into the office and there could be a pile of faxes waiting for you. The latter option saves paper: you can choose only to print important faxes, not short ones or junk.

Once everything is configured, which only takes a couple of minutes, you’re ready to send and receive faxes. Let’s look at sending first. In the Accessories->Communications->Fax menu, you’ll notice an item called Send a Fax. Oddly enough, that’s not the best way to start sending a fax. Instead, open a document in your word processor (or some other program with a document that you want to fax) then choose File->Print. Under the Printer Name drop-down menu, choose Fax. Instead of printing the document to the printer, it will send it as a fax! Neat, huh? Click OK and you’ll see the Send Fax Wizard, which lets you enter the recipient’s name, fax number, and set up a cover page. There’s a simple address book for commonly used fax numbers, a choice of cover page templates, and the ability to add a note to the cover page.

(The Send Fax Wizard comes with a few standard cover pages, which you can customize with the Fax Cover Page Editor, also located under the Accessories->Communications->Fax menu.)

Last but not least, there’s the Fax Console program. This is where incoming faxes are saved. Look in the Incoming and Inbox folders for faxes that you’ve received. Also, faxes that you’ve sent are stored in the Sent Items folder. If you set the fax wizard to manual receive mode, the Receive Now button in the Fax Console is where you can force Windows to start receiving. There are lots of other settings there which you can explore. Of particular interest is the Fax Monitor: a floating window that alerts you when faxes are being sent or received. You can activate it from the Fax Console’s Tools menu.

Do you have a question about faxing? Send us your fax question.