The Internet is not hurting for ways to share files with friends. Sites like RapidShare, YouSendIt and MailBigFile were the first on the scene, and for a while they were pretty cool. For various reasons, however, those sites decided to put caps on the way people used them. Most of them adopted rules that limited the maximum file size (100 MB, usually), and many of them put limits on how much “non-premium” users could download at once. With RapidShare, for example, “free” users can only download 60MB or so per hour. So if you have a mess of pictures that you want to email someone, you’d probably have to break it up into pieces (which makes it unnecessarily confusing for the end user) and that end user might have to wait several hours before they can download the entire lot of pictures.
Other programs and services came along. Tubes, for example, is a free service. To use it, you (and all your friends) sign up on the site and download a program that looks something like an instant messaging program. You can then create shared folders (called “tubes”) that are copied back and forth between your friends. So you can create a “public” tube and drag and drop files there, and the files will automatically be downloaded to any of your friends that have “subscribed” to your “public tube”. It actually sounds simpler than it is in practice. In reality, you need to send “invites” to your friends to join your “tube”; these don’t always go through, and sometimes the “tubes” will mysteriously disappear from your friend’s computers. And then there’s permission issues: Tubes tries to allow granular control of your files, so that Friend A can download a file from your public tube but not edit it, while Friend B can open and edit the file, while Friend C can’t download or edit it or anything. It’s all too complicated for the average user, and to make matters worse, it just doesn’t work that well. I tried Tubes for a couple of months, and I’d often find really outdated files on my friend’s computer. As in, files I’d deleted from my Tube weeks ago. Tubes said they were in perfect sync. Yeah right. And Tubes also seems to choke on large files, which is most of what people want to trade these days in the first place.
So today I’m going to tell you about two file sharing methods I haven’t discussed before. One is similar to Xdrive or Box.net. The other method sounds far more complicated than it really is.
The first is ADrive. It’s similar to XDrive or YouSendIt, in that it’s an online sharing solution. It’s like XDrive in that it’s more about online storage than sending files, but it’s also like YouSendIt in that you can share any uploaded files with anyone. And what makes ADrive stand out from the rest of the pack is the sheer amount of storage you get for free: 50GB! And with no restrictions on file size, you can easily share home movies or large images without having to worry about running into file size limitations. ADrive even has a pretty slick Java uploading applet that allows you to select multiple files at once, so that’s pretty nifty. To start using Adrive, you just sign up on the site and start uploading files. Once you’ve uploaded the files, you can then choose to move them to your “public” folder if you so wish. And once a file is in the public folder, you just need to right-click the file and choose “Copy Link Location” and paste it into an email – your friend will be able to download the file as long as you have it in your public folder (which is neat, ‘cos many sites have a limit as to how long shared files stay on their server). All in all, ADrive’s pretty slick, and I look forward to using it in the future.
But here’s the thing with sites like that though: you have to upload the file to a public website before any of your friends can download the file. With my standard cable modem, it’d take around 2 hours before the average home movie gets uploaded to the public site, so my friend would be sitting at home twittling her thumbs. How about if you just cut out the middleman and hosted the file yourself? That’s what HFS is all about.
HFS stands for “HTTP File Server”. It’s a full-blown web server that’s been optimized for file sharing. And it’s easy as pie to use. It’s a single 550kb executable file; you just download it and double-click on it to start the fun. There’s a “simple mode” that should work well enough for most folks, as well as an “expert mode” for geeks that want to customize HFS. To actually share files, you just drag and drop files onto the program’s UI; the files will automatically be added to HFS’s “virtual file system”. Then you just open the necessary ports on your router and give your IP address (or Dynamic DNS host name) to your friends. They’ll see a rather Spartan website (see this pic) where they can download individual files by clicking on the filename, or the entire archive by clicking on the “Folder archive” link. It really is that simple. The only thing I wish HFS has was UPnP support, so the app could have your router open (and close) the ports as necessary, rather than doing it all manually. But other than that, I think I’ll be using HFS as my main file sharing app from now on!