Sending Large Files Via the Internet

Free-falling storage prices and cheap bandwidth have led to a bounty of services that allow users to send large files instantly through the Internet -- and threaten to render overnight document-delivery services such as FedEx or DHL obsolete.

Services such as YouSendIt.com, MailBigFile or SendThisfile specialize in transmitting digital images and video clips that are too hefty for e-mail servers.

For instance, the most generous free e-mail service, Gmail, caps e-mails at 20MB in size. Hotmail and Yahoo Mail allow 20MB attachments only to paying users, and 10MB to all others.

In contrast, file transmittal services all let users send files of up to 100MB for free, and many will go higher. Driveway, whose motto is "Size really does matter," lets users send files up to 500MB for free. Pando has a 1GB limit for nonsubscribers, while Civil Netizen is currently the most generous, with a 4GB limit.

Most services let senders drag and drop files into a browser window and enter an e-mail or IM address as a destination. Recipients simply click on a link to start downloading files -- a simpler process for most users than FTP transfer, the longtime standard.

"Setting up an FTP server on their home/work computers and providing their intended recipient with log-in information is really beyond the grasp of most computer users," said Brad Linder, a blogger for DownloadSquad who has written about and tested several such services.

Business-Ready Services Emerging

Most services today are run by what appear to be small start-ups, all racing to introduce Web 2.0-type features and win as many users as possible before the inevitable market shakeout.

For instance, Pando, which is based on peer-to-peer technology, lets users send files from within their Outlook 2003 e-mail program or the Skype Internet telephone service.

While most services are targeting "prosumers," some services are starting to stake out a niche with business customers.

Take four-year-old LeapFILE. Fremont, Calif.-based LeapFILE lets companies place their brands on the download sites where recipients retrieve their files. That, along with compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley Act and HIPAA security standards, has helped LeapFILE win "hundreds of businesses," according to its Web site. Those businesses include NCR, KB Home, VeriSign and Intuit

Others, such as SendThisFile and DropSend, offer the same branded-site option to business subscribers, as well as encryption on all file transfers. SendThisFile also offers detailed administrative reports, while DropSend offers a separate uploading tool for the desktop.

Targeting Business Users: YouSendIt

The company that has most successfully targeted businesses is three-year-old YouSendIt. The Mountain View, Calif.-based business has 30,000 paying subscribers at "thousands" of companies, according to Ranjith Kumaran, founder and vice president of product management. Big customers include NBC Universal, Forbes.com, Herman Miller, Autodesk and Hilton Hotels. Many other clients are in creative or entertainment fields.

"Yeah, we have a bunch of record labels using our stuff," Kumaran said, alluding to a June incident in which a Chicago DJ played an unreleased White Stripes album he had received via YouSendIt.

YouSendIt's strategy has been to develop convenience features that users want. It already offers plug-ins for five popular graphics and e-mail applications (Adobe Photoshop, Aperture, CorelDraw X3, PaperPort and Microsoft Outlook 2003) that reduce the number of clicks to send a file from within those programs. The plug-ins also automatically resume uploads if Internet access is interrupted -- a not-uncommon situation with large files.

In the next few weeks, YouSendIt will release a plug-in for Outlook 2007. It is also working on a plug-in for Final Cut Pro and one for broadcast video software from Avid Technology Inc.

"E-mail is the natural place to be, but we can live in apps," Kumaran said. "Our goal is to be ubiquitous wherever files are moved."

Besides plug-ins, YouSendIt is testing a version aimed at corporate IT managers that includes "additional security, tracking and auditing," Kumaran said. It will include round-trip file encryption and strong authentication features that integrate with a company's back-end identity management software.

The company also plans to raise the file-size limit on its desktop version to 10GB from the current 2GB sometime in late fall.

Kumaran acknowledges that YouSendIt still has obstacles in the corporate market. In certain corporate departments such as engineering and design, FTP "is already built into the workflow." And many companies are building internal collaboration portals based around programs such as Microsoft's SharePoint, for example, that allow large files to be hosted for wide access.

But for departments such as marketing or customer service that have to share files with people outside the company, YouSendIt's product becomes an attractive, ad hoc alternative, Kumaran said.

It's a "smart" strategy, Linder said.

"If you don't want to have to provide clients with your FTP log-in information and instructions to download files, YouSendIt may be the way to go," he said.

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