A great way to share files

I’ve just dropped an image file into the NitroShare widget on my Ubuntu desktop to send it to another computer, a Windows 7 PC, on the network.

IN the bad old days before networking was common, the only way to send a file to another computer was to save it to a floppy disk and carry it over to the other machine. This wasn’t so bad if the other computer was just a few desks away at the office – and if the file wasn’t too large, since the old 5-1/4-inch floppy disks could only hold 1.2 megabytes of date, not nearly enough to store even your average MP3 song. But if the other computer was halfway across town, you’d need to get your walking shoes on, hence the term “Sneakernet.”

The development of networks, both wired and wireless, made life a little easier. You could save the file to a folder on the server and allow other users on the network to gain access to it.

Or, after the Internet became common, you could simply attach the file to an e-mail and send it off.

The major disadvantage to this approach is that large files take quite awhile to upload – before you can send them to some server halfway around the world, which would then forward the message back to your colleague seated next to you.

The newest versions of the Windows and Mac operating systems have options for ad hoc file sharing, but these aren’t very easy to set up, especially if you want to share files across two different platforms.

The Mac introduced a feature called AirDrop starting with Mac OS X Lion that enabled two similarly configured Macs to send files wirelessly to each other even without a Wi-Fi network. Unfortunately, this approach didn’t work with older Macs, and of course, wouldn’t work with Windows or Linux PCs.

If you’re working transferring files between notebooks, you could try Bluetooth, but this, too, can be a pain to set up, and the data transfer rate is slow. It also won’t work if you’re trying to send a document to a desktop PC, which typically has no Bluetooth capability.

Then there’s the modern-day equivalent of the floppy, the USB stick, but this requires the annoying, extra step of safely removing the device afterward, or even more irksome, the possibility that you’ll forget to retrieve your storage device.

In search of a more convenient way to share files across platforms, I recently came across the free and open source application called NitroShare (https://launchpad.net/nitroshare), which runs on Linux, Windows and Mac OS X.

Written by Nathan Osman, NitroShare is designed to be a hassle-free way to send and receive files to and from machines sharing the same wireless network.

To get it up and running, simply download the appropriate version of the program for your operating system and run it. There’s no need to enter any network settings; the program will automatically discover all other machines on the network running NitroShare.

The application integrates with the operating system, using application indicators on Ubuntu Linux, the system tray on Windows, or the status menu on the Mac.

NitroShare also creates a small widget, called a ShareBox, on the bottom right of the screen. To send a file to another machine on the network, simply drag it from your file manager into the ShareBox and tell it where you want to send the file. You can create dedicated ShareBoxes on your desktop so you can skip the destination pop-up.

You can use the drop-down menu from the tray icon to send a file. If you’re running Ubuntu Linux, a third method is to right-click on the file in the Nautilus file manager and choose “Send item with NitroShare.” Recipients get a pop-up asking them if they will accept an incoming file.

By default, NitroShare puts incoming files onto the desktop, but you can change this and other preferences by using the Settings menu item.

File transfers are pretty fast, but if you want to speed them up, particularly on larger files, you can also use on-the-fly compression to decrease the transfer time and the bandwidth used.

NitroShare was one of 130 programs submitted to the App Showdown contest organized by Ubuntu’s sponsor, Canonical, in June. Even though it didn’t make it into the top three, it’s a big winner in my book.

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