Never fear. Enter the Maxtor Fusion drive, a NAS drive with a server that lets you share files, whether photos, music, videos, or documents, by distributing a URL that leads straight back to your drive where the files reside. Friends and family see only the files you've invited them to see, saving yourself hours of uploading time. We pretty much love this product, although the price tag gives us pause: this 500GB machine costs $800. (Most NAS drives price out at $1 per gigabyte, with a small premium for media-serving or RAID capability.) Still, this is a unique product that stands out with its ease of file organization, labeling, and sharing.
If you're looking for an easy (and inexpensive) way to share files, however, the Maxtor drive may not be for you. There are free services, such as Avvenu and myFabrik, that let you share and distribute various file types while also helping you control who sees what. But if you're in the market for a robust device that lets you store, organize, and share various file types--and you can stomach the investment--check out the Maxtor Fusion.
The Fusion employs the same aesthetic design as the Maxtor OneTouch III line of hard drives. It's shaped like a short section of I beam, with its sides encased in a firm, rubbery plastic that ensures a solid grip. LEDs located on the front of the drive indicate power, drive activity, and network activity. A power button, two USB ports, and a Gigabit Ethernet port sit on the back of the drive. Be aware that setting up the drive is a long process--newbies may be intimidated by a few of the steps--but Maxtor's setup and user guides are highly detailed. To start, connect the drive to an available LAN port on your router and plug in the power cable. Once it's powered up, you can insert the included installation CD into your PC to install the software. You'll be prompted to enter the drive's serial number (you should have a magnifying glass handy: the print is tiny) and to create a administrator username and password for the drive.
From here, there are a number of steps you can either complete or ignore, but skipping certain steps will prevent you from sharing files with users outside your network. You can create up to 13 additional sub-users; sub-users can access the drive and share files but can't change network settings. The rest of the setup process includes entering SMTP settings (for e-mailing a share link); providing a dynamic DNS host name if you already have one (or setting one up if you don't); and configuring port forwarding on your router, so people outside the network can access the Fusion drive. These tasks may seem daunting to anyone who's new to networking, but again, Maxtor does provide all the information you'll need. For dynamic DNS hosting, Maxtor recommends two particular providers--NoIP.com or DynDNS.org--but you should check that your router supports them. (We wasted some time setting up a host name on NoIP.com and fiddling with our router before realizing that, out of the two, our router supports only DynDNS.org.)
Once you've installed the drive correctly, you can access it in a number of ways. You can type its IP address into a browser window, or if you've installed the icon shortcuts, you can just double-click the Launch MyFabrik icon on your desktop. (The drive's software was designed by a company called Fabrik, so we'll refer to it as the Fabrik interface.) The user interface is clean and spare, almost to a fault. The meanings of some of the icons are a bit opaque, though you can easily discover their purpose by mousing over. The drive is divided into five folders: Pictures, Music, Video, Documents, and Public Site. You can't change these headings, but you can create folders and subfolders within each. Each folder also accepts all file types. For example, in one folder you can share videos and photos from a group ski trip, as well as the music you listened to on the drive up to the mountains.
There are a number of ways to import files to your Fusion drive. The most obvious way is to click on the Import button, which then prompts you to browse to each file individually. If you have a lot of files, you can import them in bulk by dragging and dropping files from the PC file manager window into a program window and clicking Import All. If your PC and the Fusion drive are on the same local area network, importing files is even easier: simply double-click the Explore MyFabrik icon on the desktop to go straight to the Fusion's folders. From here, you drag and drop files or folders straight onto the drive. The benefit of this is that it preserves your file structures and is much faster than the other method.
The Fabrik interface creates a thumbnail image for each uploaded file, a process that can take some time. You can view your folders and files in a number of different ways: by thumbnails; by large thumbnails; by date range; as a list; and as a detailed list. Double-clicking an individual file will open a small window with a preview image (you can zoom in for a better view) and fields where you can edit filename, a description, and tags. The tag feature is very handy if you have a large number of files and need to search through them quickly (the search tool will also look at the filename and description fields).