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Big File Transfers? Go Direct With IM and More

Sending large files can be a hassle, but instant messaging and direct transfer software offer a way around going by e-mail or third-party hosting.

by Joseph Moran

Last week, we explored the problems associated with sending large files via e-mail due to the size and storage limits imposed by many e-mail providers. We also took a look at a number of free services that let you to get around restrictions by e-mailing your recipient a link to a file rather than the file itself.

A downside to services like this is that, like e-mail, they require you to upload your file somewhere before your recipient can download it, which means that you're storing it on someone else's server while it's waiting to be retrieved. For those who would prefer not to upload large files first, there are other ways you can send them straight from one computer to another. Here are a couple:

Instant Messaging

Almost all of use use an instant messaging to communicate with friends, family or colleagues, so one option is to use the same IM service to send your file. Since this method is a direct transfer between two systems, it doesn't involve storing the file in a third-party location. As a result there's generally no limit to the size of a file you can send this way.

Of course, in order to transfer files via IM, you and your recipient must both be online and connected to the same service – it won't work if you're an AIM user and the other person has GoogleTalk. (While both parties must be using a common IM service, you don't necessarily have be running exactly the same client software – transfers should still work if one of you is running a multi-protocol IM client like Trillian or Pidgin.)

A significant drawback to IM file transfers is that they require the recipient be sitting in front of a computer when the transfer is initiated, because unsolicited file transfers aren't allowed. Rather, you must issue a request to send a file which must then be accepted on the other end before the transfer can begin. (Consult your specific IM software's documentation or help file regarding how to do a transfer.)

This limitation brings us to another file transfer option to consider, which is BoxCloud. This product/service combines some of the best aspects of IM transfers with those of the e-mail transfer services we talked about last week.

Just as with an IM transfer, BoxCloud doesn't require you to upload your file anywhere before someone can get it. Because your files never leave your PC, there are no size restrictions to deal with. But unlike IM, BoxCloud doesn't require both parties to be around to set up a direct link. Instead, it works a lot like the e-mail transfer services: Your recipient gets an e-mail containing a link to the file, which can be downloaded later.

In order to send files via BoxCloud, you need to register with the service and download a special client utility that will let you specify files you want to send from your system and provide e-mail addresses for the people you want to receive them. Given the nature of the service, if you turn your system off or it crashes, your files won't be available. (Those receiving files through BoxCloud don't need to sign up or download any software.)

Like the services we talked about last week, BoxCloud is one that comes in both free and paid versions. The former displays ads and only lets you have three recipients set up at one time, while the latter (which at $12 per month isn't exactly cheap) removes that restriction (as well as the ads) and includes extra features like the ability to track multiple versions of a file and receive notification when files are picked up. (For more details about BoxCloud, you can check out a review we did back in October.)

When sending files via IM, BoxCloud, or any direct link, it pays to be mindful of the likely mismatch between the rate at which the sender can upload a file and the download speed of the recipient. In other words, you can only download a file as fast as it is uploaded; if the sender's upstream connection is 384 KB, the receiver's 10 MB downstream connection won't make the download any faster.

Joe Moran is a regular contributor to PracticallyNetworked.


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