Smooth Internet file sharing
Helios WebShare offers easy, speedy, browser-based access
E-mail and FTP can do the job, but the most usable and secure way to share files across the Internet is to implement a Web-based file server.
Xythos WebFile Server, which I reviewed earlier this year (infoworld.com/1097), combines Web-based file sharing with impressive document management capabilities. A new alternative, Helios WebShare 1.0, lacks document management -- and even document search capabilities -- but provides easy and secure remote file access and management for any user with a browser. With the addition of optional services, WebShare even allows users to preview graphic images and PDFs without having to download the files.
WebShare is available only for Mac OS X, Linux, and various Unix platforms -- no Windows version at this point. Because it uses Apple’s WebObjects, you will need a valid WebObjects license, which is available from Apple for $699. I tested WebShare on Red Hat Linux 9, using Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 to access shared files.
WebShare organizes files in groups called Sharepoints, which are created by the WebShare administrator and provide a way to define access to files based on users and groups. For example, you can create a Sharepoint that facilitates previewing, downloading, and file copying but does not allow uploading, deleting, or renaming. To define multiple access levels to a group of files, the administrator must create different Sharepoints with different attributes for each user group. Users’ group memberships dictate their levels of access.
Before creating a Sharepoint, administrators must first create a directory structure through the host operating system. Administrators cannot create a Sharepoint and have WebShare create the underlying structure for them. Although users cannot establish Sharepoints on their own, they can create subfolders within existing Sharepoints.
User permission management is one area where WebShare could stand some improvement. User access to Sharepoints and files relies on permissions set in both WebShare and the host operating system. WebShare will pull user names from LDAP, NIS (Network Information Service), and its own user database, but to truly lock down file access, administrators will sometimes have to resort to managing permissions through the operating system. I would like to see all user access control managed through a single interface.
One nice feature is WebShare’s Zip Stream technology. When you select multiple files for download, Zip Stream will automatically compress the files into a single archive for faster transfer.
WebShare offers other cool capabilities via its ImageServer and PDF Handshake add-ons. ImageServer allows you to view various graphic formats, including TIFF, JPEG, QuarkXPress, and Adobe InDesign files, in your Web browser without having to download the file. ImageServer renders these formats into bitmaps that you can quickly resize, rotate, and otherwise manipulate in your browser. PDF Handshake extends these preview capabilities to PDF documents. For those in the graphics business, this can greatly speed up locating graphics and images.
Because WebShare is not intended to be a document management solution, it should not be looked at as such. What you get is fast, reliable Web-based file sharing, and that’s about it. User permission management and Sharepoint creation could be improved, and I would love to see a search feature added.
WebShare is easy to deploy and to use and is an effective way to bring file sharing to Internet-based workgroups. For larger deployments or any scenario in which tracking versions of documents is necessary, Xythos WebFile Server is a better choice.
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