Editor's note: When this review first posted, it contained an error in pricing and also implied that all users were subject to file transfer limits. The review has since been corrected. (2/24/05)As an alternative to VPN or FTP sites, Laplink ShareDirect does a great job of sharing files between your home, office, or remote computers and among office teammates. However, ShareDirect's annual fee and limited feature set make it clear that Groove Virtual Office 3.0 is the office file-sharing leader. While we like ShareDirect's strong encryption and built-in virus protection, this isn't enough to justify the annual fee starting at $59 per year, a pricing model that ensures that users will continue to pay for ShareDirect for as long as they use it. To answer this, Laplink recently launched a free version of ShareDirect, but as you might expect, it limits the number of files transferred each month (if you're behind a firewall) and doesn't include antivirus protection. Groove, on the other hand, is a one-time purchase. ShareDirect's simple interface might be more appealing to home users, but for small businesses, we recommend Groove Virtual Office 3.0 File Sharing Edition as the better office file-sharing choice. Laplink ShareDirect requires the Microsoft .Net framework, a layer of Internet networking protocols that includes SOAP; XML; and Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration (UDDI). If you don't already have the framework installed, the ShareDirect installer will prompt you to download and install a version that includes .Net. Our download and installation took nearly an hour on a current Windows XP system over a modem connection. Once downloaded, however, the rest of the installation was quick, requiring only a few simple steps. If you want to sample ShareDirect before you buy it, a free three-month trial edition is also available.
Once installed, ShareDirect opens via the System Tray or a desktop icon as a console that displays all of your shared folders. Unlike Groove, ShareDirect doesn't show your contacts in its console, nor does it link to common tasks. Like Groove, however, ShareDirect works within Windows Explorer: Open up any folder, and you'll see a ShareDirect icon floating at the top right. Simply click the icon, select the option to share the folder, then decide with whom you want to share. Laplink ShareDirect is targeted more toward individuals than offices. Competitor Groove, on the other hand, piles on features for offices, emphasizing collaboration tools and letting team members access the same files, features we wish were included within ShareDirect.
Within ShareDirect, the shared folder screen is split in two, with the top half showing your own shared items and the bottom showing everyone else's. You can double-click an item to download it or highlight several and right-click to grab them all at once. A status indicator to the right of the filenames tells you whether you've already downloaded a file. ShareDirect makes it easy to share collections of photos or songs among a group of members, and it worked quickly in our informal tests.
We like that ShareDirect has BitDefender antivirus protection built in and strong 256-bit encryption (Groove lacks virus checking and offers a slightly weaker, 192-bit encryption). But while ShareDirect is easier to use than Groove, it's also light on features. For example, ShareDirect doesn't have collaboration tools, as Groove does, and it lacks Groove's robust reporting and customization options that let you know when another individual is browsing your files. If both users are behind a firewall, ShareDirect has monthly transfer limits, starting at 200MB (a mere 50MB for the free version), but you can avoid reaching your limit by using ShareDirect to create a PC-to-PC direct connection with another user. While Laplink ShareDirect doesn't offer online help forums, as Groove does, it has other support options that are more personal and more helpful. Registered users can get one hour of phone support per subscription, or they can get unlimited live chat support through the Web site weekdays between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. ET. Users can also e-mail questions for free (Groove charges for e-mail support).