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The paperless myth

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This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on September 29, 2000
(Issue 1839, Going Paperless)

It was about a decade ago that we first starting hearing the phrase, the "paperless office." With bigger and bigger hard drives coming out, rewriteable CD-ROMS coming on the market, and the explosion of e-mail, we were assured that those beautiful stands of old-growth forests would be forever safe in our new electronic paradise.

Such thinking ignored the allure of all those incredible new inkjet and laser printers, of course. Go into any office supply shop today, and you'll find row after row of different brands and types of printer paper.

The computer revolution has accomplished many good things, but a lowered demand for paper products is not – yet – one of them.

One area where paper usage has increased exponentially over the past quarter-decade has to be in fax machines. And the odd thing is that, nowadays, one has paperless fax options available. Online businesses such as Fax4Free can take your documents and fax them to e-mail addresses as attached graphics. (They can, of course, also send directly to standard fax machines – but while eminently handy, that hardly helps the cause of the paperless office.)

Fax4Free is also handy in that if you're trying to send, say, a WordPerfect document to someone who uses Microsoft Word, you can at least use this service to e-mail them a graphic representation of it. ASCII is obviously the easier alternative for simple documents, but if you have graphics or charts in your document, Fax4Free isn't a bad fall-back position.

This kind of service is also handy if you don't have a fax machine of your own but do have a scanner. If you have some printed materials you need to transmit, simply scan them in, use the Fax4Free service, and e-mail or fax them off.

If you sign up, you can also receive faxes in your Web browser as a graphic image – another good way of saving on paper.


With the proliferation of e-mail and word processors, another huge use of paper has been in making hard copies of important messages, letters and/or documents. Sure, you can keep an electronic version on your hard drive, but what if your hard drive crashes? It's a well-deserved fear, and the prudent person has a backup system – whether a second hard drive, a tape system, or something like a Zip drive.

FreeDrive offers up to 50 megabytes of storage space. (They make their money off advertising space on their site.) While 50 Mb isn't much, it can be plenty for archiving text files and e-mail messages – most of which are only a few kilobytes in size. Stash your important documents no FreeDrive, and if your own hard drive crashes, you have a much better recovery system than typing back in all your printouts.

FreeDrive also has a file sharing option that can serve as an ftp replacement – upload your files here, and your friends and associates can access them as well.