When you want to to share music, movies, photos or other files online, you've got countless options. We've examined most, and for our money, one tool emerges on top of the heap for its ease of use, wide support, and all-around excellence.
Sharing files publicly has always been a subject of hot debate, but put aside any legal concerns for the moment and consider: What if you want to just share some home videos or music privately with a few friends rather than the internet at large? What's the easiest way to share large files?
The Answer: Opera Unite
For this writer and tech enthusiast's money, the easiest and best way to share large files of any kind with your friends and family is to simply install Opera Unite, walk through a couple of quick configuration screens, and then send them the URL and password to access your content from any browser.
Plenty of websites let you send large files around, usually by uploading a file and then sending a link to the content, and BitTorrent is also great for sharing large files, but the problem with both of those is that you're unnecessarily putting your content out there online for others, and wasting bandwidth by sending it to third parties. (You could setup private torrents, but those still require an open tracking server, which aren't always reliable.) Opera Unite sets up a fast, direct connection to share your files, it's extremely easy to use, and best of all, it's free!
Setting Up Unite is Easy
Since Unite is just a component of the Opera browser, all you have to do is download and install the latest version of Opera. Unite comes along for the ride automatically, but you'll need to activate it by opening up the sidebar, clicking the Unite icon, and going through the wizard to setup a free Unite account (see screenshot).
Note: You don't have to switch to the Opera browser to use Unite, so if you're a Firefox or Chrome loyalist, you can still choose to use Opera just for your file sharing needs.
Once you've done set it up, you can right-click on Opera Unite Home and access the Properties, or you can select the Fire Sharing module and click the Start button to open up a short configuration wizard to help you share your files.
The Technical Bits
Internally, Opera Unite is nothing more than a web server that runs inside of your web browser, and uses the standard HTTP protocol so your friends and family can access your shared content from any browser. Your free Unite account gives you access to Opera's dynamic DNS service, which means you can share your content with an easy-to-remember, unique URL that you can send to anybody. Unite automatically hooks into your router using uPnP to dynamically open port 8840, but it can also use a Unite proxy server when you're behind a more restrictive firewall — though it will obviously be slower.
Everything is password protected, so even if you've setup file sharing and the URL is public, it doesn't mean that people will be able to see what you are sharing — only those that you've given both the public URL and the password to can access your files. You'll probably want to change the default passwords, though.
Share Files With Your Friends
Now that you've set up Unite, it's time to start sharing. Click on the Unite icon in the left-hand pane of Opera (it's the swirly-looking one), then double-click the File Sharing module.
You'll be asked to choose the folder you wish to share. You can click the Advanced button and setup a few additional properties, but that's pretty much all you'll need to do to start sharing your files — a URL and password will be automatically generated for you so you can share those files quickly and easily.
After setting up your file share, the next time you double-click on the File Sharing module in left-hand Opera panel you'll open up the administration page. Look over to the right-hand side, where you can see the URL and the automatically generated password. You can copy and paste those to your friends, and they'll be able to access the files immediately — but you should probably change the password to something slightly more difficult first.
Your unique Opera Unite URL will always be set to the [devicename] .[username] .operaunite.com address format, so you can actually have multiple devices setup on your network and easily share files with each one. If you would prefer to get a little more geeky, you can actually setup your own domain name for Opera Unite, but that's probably overkill for just sharing some files with friends.
Accessing the Shared Content
Once you've sent somebody the URL, they'll be prompted for a password to access the shared content, at which point they can browse through all the files you've shared and download them. Since Opera Unite usually enables port-forwarding on your router automatically with uPnP, the connection is surprisingly fast if you have a decent internet connection — it's going to be slower if it has to go through the Opera proxy server.
What makes this really great for sharing with your less tech-savvy friends is that they don't have to install any applications, or even install Opera — all of the content should work from any browser.
Taking Unite Beyond Simple File-Sharing
Since Opera Unite is nothing more than a web server, it also enables many downloadable modules to do any number of things that you could do with a full web server setup — like create your own streaming music server so you can access your content from anywhere. Just double-click on the media server module in the Unite panel, choose the location of your music folder, and then make sure to set a more difficult password. Just like that, you've enabled your entire music collection to be streamed from any browser anywhere, directly off your home PC. There's a player embedded directly in the page so you don't even need a media player installed on the other machine.
What about you? What's your best method of sharing large files with your friends and family? Have you used Opera Unite? Share your thoughts in the comments.