Despite the scare stories about sharing copyrighted files, P2P (peer-to-peer) filesharing has never been more popular. Indeed, OnShare expects filesharing to constitute 65 percent of all web traffic in 2007. OnShare is different from other P2P networks. Crucially, it doesn't set out to share files with the entire online community, but is designed to keep private files between selected friends.

Can you keep a secret?

When you set up the software you can invite friends to join OnShare. They'll have to download and install the 8MB application to a PC, since the software isn't Mac-compatible. The invitation process is cumbersome, but full instructions are provided.

OnShare sits at what's known as the 'namespace' level of Windows. This approach is virtually unique for a third-party application and OnShare is the only filesharing program to use it. This method means that OnShare becomes, in effect, part of the OS (operating system). When you open My Computer, OnShare is recognised as another drive – so when you access shared files it's as if you're viewing them on an attached storage device.

The other benefit of this method is that it makes the software identical in use to Windows, so it's simple to view, copy and edit files in the way you would within the OS. Indeed, the manufacturer claims that you could easily operate the software from within Windows and ditch the interface entirely, if you so wish.

This might not be a bad idea, given that when we installed it on our test PC the OnShare window failed to display correctly. Menu titles were running off the side of the window, with no option to resize them.

Because OnShare's means of sharing files is done in the style of a VPN (virtual private network), you're more secure from attacks by viruses and bugs. And OnShare doesn't hold files on a server. They reside on the original PC throughout, so there's no chance of them being accessed from a central point. This has the added advantage that it requires no desktop reorganisation to share your files.

Armoured encryption

OnShare, which has its roots in military software, takes security seriously. Every single file is protected using 2Kb encryption technology. This means that ISPs cannot detect the fact that you're using P2P filesharing, so they are unlikely to act to prevent it. And OnShare will avoid firewalls, too, so there's no need to configure software to get around them.

At first we found the software slightly counterintuitive to use, although there's plenty of help provided. It was pretty slow when it came to sharing large files, too. OnShare offers a secure chat feature, which isn't as user-friendly as other, similar tools, crashing a friend's PC when we used it. But once you're up and running, it's easy to share files from within Windows. Simply right-click and choose the OnShare icon and files are immediately available to your friends. Conveniently, you can unshare any file with any friend from within the OnShare application.

OnShare: Specs

  • For Windows 98/Me: 400MHz Pentium II
  • 64MB RAM
  • 25MB hard disk space. For Windows 2000/XP: 750MHz Pentium III
  • 128MB RAM
  • 25MB free hard disk space
  • For Windows 98/Me: 400MHz Pentium II
  • 64MB RAM
  • 25MB hard disk space. For Windows 2000/XP: 750MHz Pentium III
  • 128MB RAM
  • 25MB free hard disk space

OUR VERDICT

This is a boon for serious P2P filesharing fans. OnShare allows you to share any type of file in complete secrecy, but whether it will have mass appeal is yet to be seen. It's free, so there's no reason not to try it, although we found it a little flaky. Online alternatives such as Flickr might be more the ticket for occasional users.

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