Review: eFax Microviewer
Published By: eFax.com
Requirements: System 7.0.1 or higher (System 7.5.3 or above recommended)
Back in issue 5.06, I reviewed the free fax to e-mail service, eFax. Like most of the fax to e-mail services currently available, eFaxes’ proprietary software was available for Windows only. Unlike most competitors, though, eFax let users of other operating systems use their service by distributing files in the TIFF-F format. While allowing Mac users receive their faxes as e-mail anywhere in the world, this approach did have some problems. First, faxes sent via e-mail are subject to the same security issues as regular e-mail. Whoever supplies your e-mail services, be it an ISP or an employer, can easily take a peak at what you are receiving. Second, it was impossible to view TIFF-F files on a Mac without paying for software, thus defeating the whole idea of a free service. The most inexpensive TIFF-F viewer, TIFF-Sight, costs only $10 but has been pulled from distribution. To the best of my knowledge, GraphicsViewer is the next best pick, cost-wise, at $35.
When I last assessed the state of service on the Mac side of things, I said “there must be a better way to do this.” Apparently, somebody was listening. At Macworld New York, eFax.com released the eFax Microviewer for the Mac.
All the Fax That’s Fit to Print
The eFax Microviewer changed the way the service was handled for Mac users. As I mentioned earlier, the TIFF-F format was used for non-Windows operating systems because applications that could view these files were fairly common. When Mac users indicate that they have downloaded the new Microviewer, they are switched over to the proprietary .efx format. There are several advantages to this format. First, the viewer is free, so the original promise of eFax is fulfilled. Second, .efx files are much smaller than their TIFF-F counterparts. Back in 5.06, I sent several test files through eFax, including a 4 page text document. Well, that 4 page document has returned for a second trip through the eFax system and we now have the results. The TIFF-F weighed in at 196K—not overly hefty, but by no means fit and trim, especially over a slower Internet connection. The .efx file, however, came in at a slim 60K. By using their own compression scheme, eFax was able to cut the file size without sacrificing quality. Below are images of the two files for comparison’s sake. The .efx file, on the right, was viewed in the eFax Microviewer, while the TIFF-F file, on the left, was viewed with TIFF-Sight.
The change to .efx files also allows eFax to implement encryption of all fax files. This was one of the major shortcomings of the TIFF-F files format, as well as one of the features Windows users had that was unavailable to Mac users. This encryption prevents somebody from looking at your faxes while they are en route to you. Additionally, the encryption continues to protect your faxes once they are on your machine. Whenever you open an encrypted fax, you are presented with a dialog box asking for your password.
This is not some password that you assign in the system preferences — this password is set in the account management area on the eFax Web site. If you have encryption turned on, your faxes are encoded with your password so only you can have access to them. If you are the only person using you machine, you can tell the Microviewer to remember you password, but for multi-user systems, every user can receive and store their own encrypted faxes. The only downside to the encryption is that there’s no way to disable it. Therefore, you cannot e-mail somebody a fax you received without first giving them your password.
You may have noticed that I used TIFF-Sight for the image of the TIFF-F file. There is a reason for this: in facilitating the switch from TIFF-F files to .efx files, eFax did not bother to include the ability to read TIFF-F files. In order to access your old faxes, you must either fax them to yourself or keep around a copy of your TIFF-F viewer of choice. For new users of the service, this is not a major issue, since they will likely never see a TIFF-F file. For early adopters, however, it is a bit annoying.
Whoever Said Looks Don’t Matter...
...never saw a poorly designed Mac app. The fact is, looks do matter, especially to Mac users. Considering eFax is giving the Microviewer away, they certainly took steps to make Mac users feel at home. While the documentation is nonexistent (you get a one page fax file included with the eFax Microviewer informing you of other eFax services), the interface is so clean that you will not notice that it’s missing. When you launch the application, you are shown an Open File dialog box (using Navigation Services) that lets you pick which file you want to view. Opening the file takes you to an envelope-like screen that gives you some information on the file, lets you enter a password, and displays a few ads, complete with web links.
After you get by the information screen, you can read your faxes. Along the top of the screen, there is a tool bar giving you access to common functions like printing, changing the zoom factor, and going to the next or previous page. There is a button for Web OCR, which is disabled unless you pay for an eFax Plus account. There is also a banner, complete with web link, that link to the eFax home page. Unlike some products which started off as Windows-only, the tool bar in the Microviewer is 3-D, so you have a clear visual indication of where each button begins and ends.
The eFax Microviewer has almost everything you would ever want for reading a fax. You can have the fax set to fit to the page width or height or you can choose your own percentage. If you receive a fax that was accidentally sent upside-down, the Microviewer can either flip the single page or it can flip the entire document. For faxes sent horizontally instead of vertically, the Microviewer can rotate individual pages or the entire document left or right. There is a “Go To Page...” command for jumping around within documents. The only thing that is lacking is the ability to copy anything out of a document. I can understand not being able to copy text, since OCR has not been preformed on the document, but users should at least be able to copy a selection as an image. I do not know if copying is enabled for users of the eFax Plus service.
Back in 5.06, I pointed out the shortcomings of the eFax system in terms of service for Mac users. The major flaws were security and cost. The eFax Microviewer allows Mac users to receive encrypted.efx files, so this problem is solved. Also, since the application is a free download, even for those not signed up for the service, the promise of a free fax to e-mail service is now fulfilled.
It would have been easy for eFax to do a poor port of the Windows Microviewer and say “we gave you what you want,” but they instead chose to give us a program that does what we asked for and looks like it belongs on a Mac. Some people may balk at the ads, but they are small, only on screen for a short time, and a small price to pay for this free and useful service.