We're a large family with several computers in our home. What's the best way to share files across our home network other than putting them on thumb drives and running from PC to PC?
With much love, Out of Touch with My Family
Photo by Marshall Astor.
Hi Out of Touch,
The number of homes with multiple computers is rising, so you've got a pretty common problem. Fortunately, we've got plenty of good solutions. While it's possible to set up an in-home network to allow file access and sharing among computer users, we'd suggest some alternatives that are generally much quicker and easier to set up.
One of our absolute favourite ways to swap files is with Dropbox. For the low cost of free, you can install a folder on any Window, Mac OS X or Linux-based computer, then just drag and drop files right into it that you want to share with others. Once you stick a file into the folder, it instantly syncs to Dropbox's server and is available to the rest of your family on their own computers in just a couple of clicks.
Set up a single Dropbox account and password with private folder access your whole family can share, or grab a personal account for each user and designate a shared folder that all family members have access to. Each account comes with 2GB of storage space, but there's an option to buy more if you need it. By the way, with Dropbox, you don't have to worry about your shared files getting stuck in the ether if you lose your internet connection — synced files remain on your computer's hard drive for easy access. Also, Dropbox's LAN sync feature means that rather than making the roundtrip to the Dropbox servers and back to all the other machines in your network, the files quickly propagate to all the computers on your local network directly — so even big files should make their way to everyone's computers very quickly.
Another excellent option comes in the form of Windows Home Server, one of the few Microsoft products that everyone who uses it seems to universally love. Jason detailed how to set up WHS to automate your backups and corral your media, but it's basically one always-accessible repository that your family can use to easily and seamlessly share files. If you don't want to shell out for the WHS operating system, you could also put together your own network-attached storage (NAS); FreeNAS is an extremely popular free and open-source NAS worth checking out.
Finally, note-taking application Evernote is another option for sharing files with friends and families. The free version lets users upload up to 40MB of files each month, but you're limited to audio, images, or PDFs (you'll need a premium account to upload Microsoft docs, videos, and so on). Evernote is a great choice if you want to make separate folders — or, in this case, notebooks — for each family member to help keep files organised and orderly.
P.S. Got your own preferred methods that you use to share files at home? Let's hear them in the comments. Thanks, Matthew!