A fax (short for facsimile and sometimes called telecopying) is the telephonic transmission of scanned-in printed material (text or images), usually to a telephone number associated with a printer or other output device. The original document is scanned with a fax machine, which treats the contents (text or images) as a single fixed graphic image, converting it into a bitmap. In this digital form, the information is transmitted as electrical signals through the telephone system. The receiving fax machine reconverts the coded image and prints a paper copy of the document.
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Almost all modems manufactured today are capable of sending and receiving fax data. Fax/modem software generates fax signals directly from disk files or the screen. Even if a document is text only, it is treated by the computer as a scanned image and is transmitted to the receiver as a bitmap. Faxing a message online works well if the recipient wants only to read the message. However, if the document requires editing, it must be converted into ASCII text by an OCR (optical character recognition) program, or it must be retyped manually into the computer. A more efficient method of sending documents that require modification is through the e-mail system. E-mail files are already ASCII text so they can be edited immediately in any text editor or word processing program.
The Internet now provides a new and cheaper way to send faxes in some cases. A number of free and commercial companies provide arrangements for using the Internet rather than the public telephone system for most or part of the path to the fax point. Some services also provide the ability to broadcast a fax to multiple addresses.