If there's one persistent complaint about Windows, it's how difficult it can be just to open up a folder for simple...
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file sharing across a local network. Windows Vista has ameliorated much (but not all) of this file sharing problem. For instance, on every Vista system there's a Public folder which can be automatically shared out as a read-only or read/write network directory.
For administrators who are either still on other versions of Windows or who want to use something that doesn't rely on any particular version of Windows, there are many alternatives, including one I recently came across: the HTTP File Server.
HTTP File Server is a 500K server that lets you share out a designated set of files via HTTP. No installation is required; it can be run from whatever directory it's sitting in, so it's a good addition to an admin's USB drive toolbox. It can work on local networks, but can also make use of dynamic DNS services such as CJB, no-ip or DynDNS to allow file sharing across the public Internet (provided such a thing isn't a violation of anyone's terms of service).
When run, HTTP File Server sets up a "virtual file system"—an internally maintained list of files that it shares out. This way, you can share out files that are not in any particular folder (although you can share out a whole folder automatically if you wish), so you're not exposing your system to any undue risk.
HTTP File Server also gives you the option to add an "Add file to HTTP File Server" context-menu option in Explorer if you use it a lot and are constantly adding files to it. The program's options can be saved to a standalone file or the Registry (your choice), so the program can be run without actually impacting the system it's on in any significant way.
Once HTTP File Server has files shared out, a remote user can then connect to the system via any Web browser and download the files through a customizable interface. The admin can create individual user accounts (which are not connected with the Windows user-account system) and enforce download limits, user bans or bans via IP address. It's also possible to designate folders to allow uploading of files through the Web browser, if you want to make it possible for users to contribute files as well.
About the author: Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Insight, (formerly the Windows Power Users Newsletter), a blog site devoted to hints, tips, tricks and news for users and administrators of Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Server 2003 and Vista. He has more than 12 years of Windows experience under his belt, and contributes regularly to SearchWinComputing.com and SearchSQLServer.com.
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