Recently a few of my clients needed to deliver large files (over 20MB) to customers or off-site employees and wanted me to set up FTP sites to use for this purpose.  They had decided that FTP was the answer to their problems because someone that they knew (a friend or relative) had told them that was the ideal solution to their small business data delivery problem.

I spent an hour showing one client how to configure the existing FTP service. A few days later I got a call asking me to come back and do it again. I’m not one to turn down billable hours, but I asked what the problem was and found that the client wasn’t able to create password-protected folders for individual customers. A quick conversation with my other clients with similar issues helped define the data delivery problem:

1.     In all cases, email wouldn’t work because the files were too large.

2.     Secure access to the files was important; they couldn’t be put online with anonymous access enabled.

3.     Some clients needed access to files enabled for one authorized person; some required multiple people authorized.

4.     Standard FTP wasn’t user friendly but installing an easy-to-use FTP client didn’t address the need to secure the files and assign access permissions.

And, of course, each client wanted the solution to be as cheap as possible, preferably with no ongoing costs beyond setup. Fortunately, I focus a lot on storage technologies, and from that experience I was able to deliver an almost-perfect solution. It not only met their key requirements but also cost my clients nothing beyond paying me to deliver some quick training on how to use the solution.

That solution was Windows Live SkyDrive, Microsoft’s online storage service (http://skydrive.live.com). With 5GB of free storage, and easily configurable user access, the SkyDrive service met all of the needs of my clients.  My clients needed just the file services component, but SkyDrive offers a lot of features beyond just being able to store files. (To learn more, see Paul Thurrott’s SkyDrive Overview at http://www.winsupersite.com/showcase/skydrive.asp).

The security mechanism requires that users have Windows Live accounts (aka Microsoft Passport).  My clients addressed that issue in a couple of different ways. One client who needed to deliver updated catalogs in PDF format to sales people in the field just created a single Windows Live account and gives the password to all of the field agents to use to access the catalog folder.   Another client who is using the service to deliver video proofs to customers created a Windows Live account to use as a guest account, which she provides to customers who don’t have an existing account and aren’t prepared to create the free account on their own.  However, she tells me she’s only used the guest account once so far with more than a dozen clients taking advantage of her online proof delivery.

I don’t think this was what Microsoft initially had in mind when delivering the SkyDrive service. But it makes an excellent solution for the data-delivery needs of a small business.

Tip –

Like a lot of users, I often keep the files that I’m currently working with on my Windows Desktop, organizing them into folders after I finish putting the project together.  The main downside of this is that if I have applications open, the simplest way to access files (rather than using the File, Open dialog box and navigating down the tree to where the user’s desktop is buried) is to minimize the applications and find the file on my desktop.

To get around having to do this and to simplify finding specific files on what sometimes can be a very busy desktop, I’ve added the desktop folder to my toolbar.  This lets me click the taskbar and select that folder to open (and it works for any folder you chose to assign a toolbar).

1.     Right-click the taskbar

2.     Click Toolbars

3.     Click New Toolbar

4.     Select the Folder you want to add from the dialog box that opens