E-mail and the Mazda Miata are both great examples of successful products, but they share a similar weakness: neither can carry much baggage. If you want to carry two people in a Miata, you're good. But if each of those folks has a big suitcase, you're in trouble. And if you want to send a file via e-mail that's more than a few megabytes in size, you also need another option. Say hello to FTP (File Transfer Protocol) and the new ways you can use one of the oldest Internet protocols.
Most mail servers, both within companies and those run by ISPs, allow a maximum attached file size of 10MB (MegaBytes, not GigaBytes). Darn few video files are that small, or audio files of much length, and even PowerPoint and spreadsheet files can break that size barrier. Add in the fact that 10MBs is the maximum size, and that many operators set their upper size limit at 6MBs or 4MBs, and you start to realize e-mail can't carry much baggage.
Hence SneakerNet and PostalNet remain popular, with people carrying or shipping CDs or hard disks from one place to another. If your files are in the 500GB and up range, copying them to a USB hard drive and shipping the hard drive is a good option for rare file transfers. But if you're regularly transferring files in the 10MB-100MB range, let's look at FTP and how new Web services have revitalized Internet file transfer and eased the process.
The most popular FTP replacement on the Web, YouSendIt, has been around since 2004 and has 8.5 million unique registered users (including Your Humble Narrator using one of the company's free accounts).
Ranjith Kumaran, CTO and founder of YouSendIt, said, "We wrote the original code in a few nights and weekends, threw up a file delivery service and it grew pretty quickly. One hundred percent of business customers are inbound customers, where users take our service to work with them, and the IT departments want more services and our paid parts."
You too can sign up for a free YouSendIt account if you haven't already. Give your name and e-mail address, the e-mail address of the file recipient, and upload the file. The recipient gets an e-mail from YouSendIt with a unique download link for the file. Paid services include files larger than 100MB, password protected download links, certified delivery with tracking, and return receipts. Their Pro service is US$9.99 per month, and their Business Plus service is $29.99 per month. You can also pay per use for features such as the certified delivery and tracking.
"We believe digital delivery is a huge market, as big as the FedEx market," said Kumaran. "Our secret sauce is ease of use. One, two, three, you upload the file, we auto-alert the recipient, and you receive notice it was picked up." If you have a YouSendIt account, you probably got it after someone sent you a file that way. That's what triggered me to get mine.
An information site called FTPSite offers help deciding which hosted FTP service best fits your needs. You can take their two minute quiz to let them guide you to a good service for your situation.
Another popular service with a useful free offering is Box.net. This service acts more as a shared storage space where team members can access the same group of files from anywhere on the Internet. Box.net, growing beyond just shared online storage, now offers online workspaces, file comments, searching across files, better security controls and many other new features.
Jen Grant, vice president of marketing for Box.net, said, "Over 50,000 businesses are using Box.net today. Most are using our paid services as a mainstream alternative to Microsoft's SharePoint."
Box.net has worked with the Zoho applications providing online storage for online file creation for quite a while, and has opened up its programming interfaces to third party developers. The game plan is to stay away from the online backup space and focus on workgroups and collaboration. Put your big files in a public folder, tell your coworkers, and let them download the files without trying to sneak a big file past your e-mail server.
Collaborative online workspaces like HyperOffice usually offer public and private folders for users. In the case of HyperOffice, sharing a file is as easy as right-clicking and moving or copying it from a private folder to a shared folder.
If you administrate your own e-mail or Web server and have regular needs for large file transfers, you may want to setup an FTP server and do your transfers in-house.
All Web servers have an FTP server included and they aren't terribly hard to set up. You need only a folder or two on the server, specify the security measures each users must jump through, and your file transfer problems are solved.
The best FTP client I know of is WS_FTP from Ipswitch. Check PCWorld's download area for free and trial versions of FTP software from dozens of programmers. Client based software tools are great for more knowledgeable users who transfer large files regularly.
Stop fighting e-mail and trying to make it do something it can't -- transfer large files. Check online for free and inexpensive options, or break our your old tennis shoes and revive SneakerNet.