"Can you send me those photos?" I'm pretty sure that's one of the most common things people hear at parties these days. You take a camera to a party, snap a few good pictures of a friend or their kids, and the next thing you know you're committing to e-mailing them 30 megabytes of images. Eventually this will start happening with video clips, too. But you know what a pain in the neck it is to e-mail big files. Somewhere along the line, it's likely that a server will choke on your large transfer.
Several companies offer ways around using e-mail to send files. They fall into two main camps: centralized and point-to-point (or peer-to-peer, depending on how you look at them). The new P2P apps are more technically clever, and there is a lot of investment going into P2P start-ups. But I recommend that users who just want to send, or get, a bunch of large image files stick to the older, and somewhat more pedestrian, centralized solutions for now.
In the centralized camp, there are companies such as DropLoad
, and Streamload
. With these utilities, you upload your big files to the Web--generally it's quite easy to do so--then on the Web site, you say who you want to receive the files. Your recipient gets e-mail from you with a link to the files. Only Web addresses go through the e-mail, so no servers or services are likely to block the messages.
This method has advantages: There's no downloadable application to worry about on either the sender's or the receiver's side (except with DropSend, which has an application for uploading files). These services are easy to use. Senders don't have to be online when the receiver comes by to pick up the files. Centralized servers should also offer reliable and consistent transfer rates. But there are disadvantages: Files are stored centrally, so you will not want to use this method to transfer sensitive data. And since somebody has to pay for storage and bandwidth, you get limited capabilities for free--premium plans get you more storage, bandwidth, or access to your files. (Web 2.0-lingo alert: this free-to-premium escalation plan is being called the "freemium" model.)
P2P--the next big thing
P2P alternatives to centralized file transfer tools include Pando
and WiredReach's BoxCloud
, which are available today; AllPeers
, which are in closed testing; and Microsoft's new Windows Live Messenger
(see our blog post
here). These tools send files from PC to PC--nothing is stored on a central server. (Pando, interestingly, uses BitTorrent technology, but it hides the technical details from the user.)
Like the centralized systems, the P2P transfer tools use e-mail messages to alert recipients when they are sent a file, but from that point, everything is different. Some of these systems, such as Pando, require that the recipient run an application to download the file. This application is easy to install, but it does set off security alerts, so I would be hesitant to send a Pando link to a nontechnical user. On others, such as BoxCloud, the download is handled through a browser.
Advantages: Since the sharing system doesn't store and transmit files itself, there's no reason to have limits on file sizes or bandwidth; the load is distributed around the Net. Disadvantages: Users need to install an application to either upload or download files (or do both), and in some systems, both the sender and the receiver need to be online at the same time.
Eventually, when everyone is online all the time with reliable and fast two-way Internet connections, P2P will be the way to go for nearly all file transfers. But for sharing files today with people who aren't technically adept or who aren't online all the time, the centralized systems are a better bet.
How do you deal with the large-file problem?