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Jun 26 2007   11:14AM GMT

Sneakernets, removable storage and hassle-free file transfer methods

GuyPardon Guy Pardon Profile: GuyPardon

One of WhatIs.com’s faithful readers wrote in recently with a suggestion for a much-beloved IT sniglets page (go take a look if you think words like CrackBerry, AlzIMers, IMglish or prairiedogged are a hoot): sneakernet. We love that sort of thing, of course (write to us!) but in this case we already had a definition for sneakernet: a method of transmitting electronic information by personally carrying it
from one place to another on floppy disk or other removable medium. The concepts certainly doesn’t seem many years removed from the days of copying working files onto a 3.5″ floppy disc at the end of the day in the computer room — or even of writing simple algorithms to the cassette tapes attached to the ancient PET computers next to my classroom in the late 80s.

As is so often the case, technology and life comes in cycles. In recent years, the explosion of cheap, removable flash drives (or jump drives, so some folks call them) has allowed mind-bogglingly large sneaker-borne file transfers copied over speedy USB 2.0 ports. iPod owners have long since discovered that those giganormous 80-gigabyte hard drives also make fantastic data warehouses for easy travel and transfer (as long as you don’t forget the cord!) and of course, it’s a cinch for most PC owners to burn a copy of a file to a CD and walk it over to another desk or office. That sort of thing can result in podslurping, of course, as network admins know. Entire operating systems can be carted around as LiveDistros, along with whatever portable applications a user might desire. I won’t even touch, of course, the multitude of flash memory formats that inhabit cameras, smartphones, GPS devices and other electronica, each a potential method of data transfer in “the sneakernet.”

(BTW, hat tip for the cool sneaker image goes to ProZak on Flickr)

So sneakernet is definitely not dead (as noted in this tip from SearchNetworking from 2005). The prompt provided by the reader email did, however, recall to my biological RAM an e-column I read just last week from David Pogue, the witty and frequently funny technology reviewer over at the New York Times. David recently wrote about a trip to California where he managed to forget a folder of 2 GB of digital photos he’d taken of digital SLRs he was reviewing in that week’s paper. With the help of a marvelously patient wife, he managed to get the files transferred over to his laptop from home using a nifty little shareware application called Pando. Pando provides, as David says, “a free, cross-platform, super-simple program designed expressly for idiotproof file transfers, even big ones.”

You can learn more at (you guessed it) Pando.com.

The only snag is that for the service to work, both users have to download and install the client, a step and hitch that David rightly suggests is a potential hindrance, or even impossible for some end users without admin privileges. That being said, Pando worked well for David and is allowing thousands of users to easily backup, transfer, recover and (yes) trade quite large media files. Color me a fan.

Aside from discovering Pando (thanks, David!), the process Pogue worked through is remarkably similar to one that plays out in classrooms and cubicles daily. How to do it? Sneakernet and removable storage is certainly one way, though I hear that the “Interwebs” is an attractive method these days as well. Here’s a crack at a list of ways to make a hypothetical transfer happen. If you have more ideas, please add them in the comments.

For instance, gmail has changed the way that most people think about using email to send attachments, with its remarkably large capacity (convertible to online storage, as I’ve blogged about before, with Gdisk), though I agree with David that 2 gigs is a tag weighty to send this way.

Also like David, I’ve been using FTP for a long time to download and upload files online, though I’ve endured timeouts, unexpected logouts and all manner of file corruptions over the years. I still have fond memories of the early versions of Fetch, including the happy dog icon that accompanied the app. David’s second idea, using an IM-client to transfer files, wasn’t a bad idea at all, though that kind of P2P file sharing isn’t likely to fly on many corporate networks.

As David discovered, however, IM and large files size don’t mix well for file transfer.

Command line geeks know about how to use Secure Shell (referred to as SSH or secsh) to securely access a computer remotely, a method that isn’t exactly for the technically faint of heart but allows direct access to the other computer’s directories. Rajpaul Bagga offers a Secure Shell (SSH) howto if you’re interested.

How else can you transfer large files? The list isn’t short, to be sure, even after touching on CDs, iPods, flash drives, P2P file sharing apps, FTP clients, iPods and IM.

.Mac users can also set up a public folder on their iDisks, which allows them to post large files for others to download, securing them behind password-protection as necessary.

Networking geeks can directly connect one PC to another with a crossover cable. And, as many will point out, a server or shared hard drive can be set up for file sharing as well.

You can use the IrDa port on your PDA and laptop (if they both have one!) to swap files using infrared.

And (of course) Bluetooth can be enabled to allow easy transfer between PCs, PDAs and printers, though bluesnarfing should worry users with proprietary or sensitive data.

Some smartphone users can use MMS to send files as well, most often pictures or (very short) videos taken with digital cameras. Unless you’re on an EV-DO, HSDPA or some other 3G wireless network, however, this won’t work particularly well with larger files.

Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments!

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