Sharing more stuff with SparkleShare

I think Dropbox is a neat idea. It makes file sharing between my several computers and optionally my friends’ computers — of course only that content which I am legally entitled to distribute — really, really easy. It mostly just works, on Linux, Mac, and Windows. Not to mention my iPod touch and Sarah’s iPhone. It’s great for keeping your stuff available in multiple places and sharing certain files with certain users, but not everyone (like from inside the dressing room when you weren’t sure which dirndl was the winner).

Dropbox needs to get paid for any significant storage capacity, however, and I’ve got a very nice virtual computer in a high-powered data center somewhere mostly sitting around idle, waiting to do some boring stuff like make this content hit your eyeballs. And even Dropbox is not immune to security flaws and breaches.

Why not leverage that extra storage and bandwidth capacity by storing stuff for safe-keeping or sharing more than what you get for free from Dropbox on your own server via SparkleShare? It’s free (beer, gratis) and free (freedom, libre) and doesn’t limit you to a certain number of users/clients/files/bytes of storage. I’ve been playing around with it for about a week, and I like what I see so far.

It’s available for several platforms:

  • Mac OS X
  • Linux
  • Android

… and iOS and Windows clients are in the works. Setting up a server on Linux was pretty easy if you are comfortable with package managers and user administration (and if you have a Linux machine running server software of any kind at your disposal, you better be). SparkleShare runs on top of Git and OpenSSH, so you need to have those packages installed and running. I’m not much of a coder, especially not in a group setting, so I had no need for Git prior to setting up SparkleShare.

The Mac client Just Works™. The Linux client was more of a challenge for me. The Ubuntu package was pretty far out of date, so I gave it a shot building from source. That was kind of an adventure, but in the end I got it running by combining some files from the 0.8 version and some from the 0.8.1 version. When it comes to compiling software, I’m mostly just fumbling around in the dark, so I’m sure it took me much longer than someone who actually has a clue.

So, what’s keeping SparkleShare from taking over the world of redundant backups and file sharing? A few things:

  1. quick setup à la Dropbox
  2. a web interface for administration (also supposedly in the works)
  3. the aforementioned Windows & iOS clients
  4. being based on Git, you need about double the storage space that your files themselves take up

That last one there confused me, since I’m not a Git user. According to Wikipedia, Git stores all the history of changes to the files being shared in every local copy. This is great if you want to look back in time at previous versions of the files, but not so great if you’re low on storage space already. SparkleShare’s programmers are looking into opening their software up to other methods of replication as well. With those, you might lose the versioning history but save on disk space.

I think it’ll really take off when it’s as easy to install on the client side as Dropbox. The only downside at the moment is that I don’t have enough friends on Mac/Linux computers with whom I regularly share files to really give it a proper field test, but it’s working great on our LAN here at the apartment. I’m using it to keep a couple hundred MB of my favorite desktop wallpaper photos in sync between a couple of Macs, and that’s working out great.

Easy multi-platform file sharing with Dropbox

You know what a big pain it is to send a bunch of pictures or other files via email?  You can zip ’em up to together, but that doesn’t really shrink the file size if you’re sending media content like movies or images or sound files (they’re most likely already compressed, and zipping them doesn’t compress them further).  And if your email provider limits the total message size, you have to decide whether to resize your pictures (boo!) or send multiple emails.  Plus, there’s the tarbomb issue – unzipped files lying around in your nice clean folders all willy-nilly.

Or maybe these are files you don’t want to publish on your webpage or via flickr or picasa or whatever and you don’t have a file server hooked up to the internet at your disposal.

Try Dropbox.  You can drag and drop files through your operating systems’ native file management programs (i.e., Finder on Mac OS X, your file manager of choice on Linux, or even Windows Explorer on Windows) and they magically appear on remote users’ computers.  You define which files and which remote users.  Even your parents can do it (provided they can get the picures off of their camera). 

Here are the details:

  • It works on Macs, PCs, and Linux (more about the Linux version below).
  • You need a login (an email address) and password, which you set up at getdropbox.com.  You also need to know the email addresses of the people with whom you want to share files.
  • You set up folders containing files and then set the permissions on a per-folder basis.  This way, you’re not sharing all your content with everyone all the time.  Example:  you and your siblings can collaborate on a birthday present for a parent by keeping the files you want to share in the Planning Mom’s Birthday folder without Mom getting wind of it.  And Mom can still share files with you via other folders.
  • You don’t really have to install any of the software, since it’s all doable via the getdropbox.com website, but the easiest way to do it is after installing the software.
  • It’s free – for up to a couple GB of storage.  If you need more, you can pay for it.

I’ve been using it for about a year I guess on our Mac and it works really well.  Thanks to Carrie Jo for suggesting it to me originally.

Now, more about that Linux stuff I mentioned above:

  • There are packages available for Fedora Core and Ubuntu and, of course, souce.
  • Wait, the Ubuntu packages require Nautilus and/or other GNOMEy stuff?  What about Kubuntu or KDE users in general?
  • Google is your friend.  I found the following advice, which worked great:Dropbox without Gnome : Sounds From The Dungeon

Those instructions work, but here are a few more details. 

  • In step #2, “$HOME” means your home directory; probably /home/yourusernamehere
  • In step #3, I had to start the daemon from the command line with an ‘&’ at the end of the command.  The wizard didn’t seem to want to work otherwise.

After that, it was cake.