Remember the first time you tried to send a 4GB video file as an email attachment? Anybody who has tried to share a large file with a friend or colleague understands all too well to the problems that are involved. Email attachments can get rejected, especially if you don't know what the upper limit on a file size is for sender or recipient. Uploads and downloads can be arbitrarily slow. And the clunkiness of the whole process makes it hard to get real work done.
In the bad old days, if you wanted to distribute files that were too hefty for your email to handle, you had few choices. You could buy some web-hosting space and use that to distribute files on the fly to your co-workers and collaborators, you could burn a disc or copy the file to a USB drive and drop that in an envelope, or you could use that fabled legacy transport protocol, Sneakernet. Nowadays, however, there's a bevy of free services that offer tons of storage and bandwidth.
In this piece, I examine 10 file-hosting services that can be used to distribute files to an audience via links or email. Four are dedicated to sending and hosting large files in a corporate context (MediaFire, RapidShare, ShareFile and YouSendIt), while the other six (Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, Minus, SkyDrive and SugarSync) are more general, personal-use file-storage services that have mass distribution as an adjunct feature.
All of the services in question allow download links to be generated from uploaded files, which makes it easy to distribute them to a mailing list or other group. That said, they've all got a different mix of storage capacities, helper apps and quirks.
To check file transfer times for each service, I uploaded a 100MB ZIP file that contained a mixture of PDF documents, JPG images and TIFF images, using a connection with an average 2 megabit/second upload speed.
In the following descriptions, I deal mainly with the file-sharing features of each service. Computerworld has reviewed a few of these services separately, looking at their other tools more thoroughly; in that case, we've provided a link to the review.
Dedicated file-sharing services
While there are currently a variety of cloud storage services out there, they were preceded by dedicated file-sharing services, whose main purpose was to allow people to upload and download files that were too large to send via email. These services may be more focused, but they also tend to offer the chance to share larger files.
MediaFire is useful if you have lots of files you want to distribute, as long as they're under 200MB each. Uploads are scanned with the BitDefender antivirus engine; common document types can be previewed directly at MediaFire's site via a Flash-based previewer. Distribution includes sending file links to social media (Facebook, Twitter) and emailing via contact lists from a variety of programs including Outlook, Plaxo, vCards and many more.
The MediaFire Express desktop application is currently in beta but shows a fair amount of thought. It provides a drag-and-drop target for quick uploading of files and folders; after uploading, a pop-up appears with a quick link to the uploaded files.
Free account storage space: No limit
Free account max file size: 200MB
Paid account storage space: No limit
Paid account max file size: 4GB ($9/month); 10GB ($49/month)
File storage expiration: None as long as account is not inactive for more than 128 days
Other paid options: Uploads do not expire for lack of activity; direct links to files without interstitial pages; removal of ads; custom domains and branding
Time to upload 100MB file: 6 min. 30 sec. (includes BitDefender scan)