In recent years the idea of sharing documents between laptops has really taken off. More than ever, each family member has pictures and videos that they want to share and work colleagues want to work collaboratively on the same files and folders.
What used to require quite expensive and complicated hardware and for users to be experts in networking in Windows can now be done with a few clicks of a mouse. There are lots of alternative methods for sharing your files, but two of the best come directly from Microsoft. Firstly, there is SkyDrive, which is a cloud-based sharing option and then secondly, Homegroup sharing which, as the name suggests, helps you to manage your documents locally on your home network.
The term 'cloud storage' is a bit of tech jargon, but essentially what it means is that you have some online disk space that’s accessible anywhere you have a computer and an internet connection. You can access Microsoft's SkyDrive with any type of computer, tablet or a mobile phone making it a truly multifunction disk drive.
Simply by signing up you get 7GB of online storage completely for free, it won’t expire or be reduced if you only use a portion of the space. If 7GB is too small for your liking then you can pay to buy more space too. The only limitation is that you can’t upload a file that’s bigger than 2GB in size, which is all but the very largest of documents.
With SkyDrive there are a few different ways to share your documents with other computers or other users in your house and thankfully they are all incredibly simple. To share the contents of your SkyDrive with another of your computers simply download and install the SkyDrive application and login. Everything you add to the SkyDrive will then be instantly available on that machine. Any changes you make to the SkyDrive will by synchronised with all your other devices and no matter which computer you use to access or change the SkyDrive the changes will be reflected on all machines.
To simply share a document or folder with another user instead of your whole SkyDrive there are a couple of options. Select the document you want to share and right-click on it, click on Share and then choose Email to send the file in an email or, click on Get Link, this will allow you to share the contents of a folder and decide if the recipient can only open the documents or open and edit them too. You can even share your folders with anyone anywhere in the world by making them public and link to them through sites like Twitter and LinkedIn.
There is another option available to you for easily sharing your documents around your home network between devices. Homegroup is an option in Windows 7 and 8 and as long as your computers are running either edition you’ll be able to simply set up file and printer sharing between devices. Best of all it’s secure as you can set up password protection and prevent specific files or folders from being shared. Once you’ve created a Homegroup on your network you can easily join it from any PC.
To set up your Homegroup go to Start > Control Panel and click on Homegroup then click on Create a Homegroup. In the next window you can choose exactly what you’d like to share. Select from pictures, music, videos, documents and finally printers. When you’ve decided what to share, click on Next. After a few seconds the Homegroup will be created and the password for joining the Homegroup will be displayed. Write the password down or click on Print password and instructions to get yourself a handy copy for when you are joining the Homegroup on your other computers.
However, connecting your other computers to your Homegroup is very, very easy. Once the Homegroup is created simply go to the Homegroup control panel and click on Join now and follow the wizard.
To access the files on another computer open Windows Explorer (WIndows Key + E) and in the left-hand pane click on Homegroup and then on the user whose documents you wish to access. Double click on the appropriate library - for example, Pictures - and then the folder you want. To make further changes to the Homegroup settings go to Start > Control Panel > Homegroup and you’ll be able to quickly change the settings here. This is also where you can find the password should you forget it when connecting further PCs to the Homegroup.
You can, if you wish exclude any folder or document from Homegroup sharing with ease or only allow sharing with specific people. Navigate to the folder or file you want to control sharing for and click on it. In the toolbar click on Sharing. Now simply choose to not share the item by selecting Nobody or click on Specific People... and then add the users who can access the file or folder. If the computer is turned off or hibernating they won’t show up in Homegroup so you’ll need to make sure that they aren’t set to automatically shutdown or hibernate to keep them available at all times.
One of the really great things about Homegroup sharing is that you can stream video and music between devices so you can keep all your music and movies on one machine and still have them available on all your other Windows 7 PCs.
However you choose to link your PCs it’s never been easier to share your documents and printers across your home network and now with SkyDrive you can share them with anyone anywhere in the world too.