I work for a nonprofit organization. As with most nonprofit groups, our organization attempts to do as much as possible with limited funds. We have two remote offices that access a server in the main office. This server runs Windows 2000 Server. I chose not to set up the server as a Web server because of all the issues with Microsoft IIS; I installed a VPN. However, most of the remote employees didn't use the VPN because it was too slow. So, the remote users had to use Win2K Server Terminal Services or Windows Remote Desktop to connect to the server.

Terminal Services met most of our needs, except for the exchange of files. The first remedy for this problem was to have the remote users connect to the server, open up a Web-based mail program, and send themselves an email in which they attached the file that they needed on their computer. They followed the steps in reverse to upload a file from their computer to the server. It worked, but it was a very convoluted method of exchanging files. Nonetheless, we lived with it for quite some time, until a solution evolved from another problem.

In an effort to make communications between the offices more flexible, we began to use Skype for IM. (Skype is a free program that you can download from http://www.skype.com.) One day, a remote user who was having problems with retrieving a file from the server used IM to ask me if I could email the file to him. Because we were already in a Skype chat, I just used Skype to send him the file. I was in the main office where the server was located, so I had no problems connecting to the server from my computer and sending him the file through Skype.

Afterward, it occurred to me that if Skype was on the server, it could be used for file transfers. So, I installed Skype on the server and set up an account with a generic name and password. I decided not to have Skype run automatically for two reasons. First, it felt more secure to not have Skype running all the time. Second, resources wouldn't be expended when Skype wasn't being used. I then had the remote users add the server's Skype account to their Skype contact list.

Now when remote users need to retrieve a file from the server, they follow these steps:

  1. Begin a Terminal Services session and connect to the server.
  2. Start Skype on the server.
  3. Start a session with themselves.
  4. Send themselves a file.
  5. Shut down Skype.
  6. Log off the server.

Even when the Terminal Services session is in full-screen mode, the dialog box for accepting the file on the remote computer pops up in front of the Terminal Services desktop. Remote users don't have to toggle back and forth between the server's desktop and their own desktop.

However, some toggling is required when remote users want to send a file to the server. In this case, the remote users follow these steps:

  1. Begin a Terminal Services session and connect to the server.
  2. Start Skype on the server.
  3. Return to their own desktop by minimizing the Terminal Services session screen.
  4. Send the file.
  5. Restore the Terminal Services session screen.
  6. Shut down Skype.
  7. Log off the server.

Using Skype for transferring files between remote users and the server is a more efficient method than what we were using before. It's faster and it's a free solution that was already available and familiar to remote users. Note that this solution is for the Win2K platform only. The RDP clients in later versions of Windows allow mapping of local drives when using Remote Desktop.
—Stephen Olson, information service director, Sojourn Services