949: File Transfer
Title text: Every time you email a file to yourself so you can pull it up on your friend's laptop, Tim Berners-Lee sheds a single tear.
Cueball is trying to help a friend help their cousin send them a 25 MB file. This exceeds most email programs' attachment limit (note: Gmail increased their attachment limit to 25 MB in 2009, though many email programs still top out at 20 MB. This is because every email has to be transferred between several mail transfer agents that each have to save a copy of the email. Space constraints of those mail servers means that they may impose size limits, which happens to be 20 MB in most cases.), and so simply attaching the file to an email is out of the question.
The next option is to upload the file to an FTP server (FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol, as opposed to HTTP, Hypertext Transfer Protocol), used to transfer files between computers on a shared network, such as the internet. However, FTP servers are a touch more esoteric than a mere email attachment, and many internet users don't have one of their own.
Web hosting is simply the ability to create a website and store all the data for said website on a server which is connected to the internet. If Cueball's friend's cousin had the ability to do that, sharing the file would be as easy as making a website for it, then having Cueball's friend visit said website and download said file. But no, the adventure continues.
Megaupload was one of many, many sites on the internet that recognizes most users' inability to host large files on their own, and so offers to host large files, sometimes for free, sometimes for a small fee. The payoff is that in order to make such a service profitable, many of these sites are cluttered with banner and pop up ads in a mad effort to squeeze as much ad revenue out of every page view as possible. It's not a dealbreaker for some, but Cueball seems to think it'll be too much for his friend's cousin to handle.
AIM direct connect was a file sharing system on AOL Instant Messenger, which was already suffering severe drops in popularity by the year 2000. Clearly, Cueball is grasping at straws here: anybody desperate enough to invoke the name of AOL as a solution instead of a problem must be at their wits' end.
Dropbox is a simple, easy to use program with an intuitive GUI that will automate file sharing between two computers using the internet, just like the internet was designed to do. But this also has its issues, as it requires both users to have a Dropbox account, then install the software—
But alas, by the time Cueball arrives at a solution, his friend's cousin has used a mix of old and new technology, namely a car and a USB drive, to physically transport the file to his friend's house, thus circumventing the internet all together. It's not an elegant solution, but sometimes brute force is the easiest way to get something done. (This approach is sometimes called "sneakernet.")
What happens in this comic illustrates 22 years later what Andy Tanenbaum said in 1989: Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway.
- [Cueball stands near a computer, talking on the phone to another person.]
- Cueball: You want your cousin to send you a file? easy. He can email it to- ... Oh, it's 25 MB? Hmm...
- Cueball: Do either of you have an FTP server? No, right.
- Cueball: If you had web hosting, you could upload it...
- Cueball: Hm. We could try one of those MegaShareUpload sites, but they're flaky and full of delays and porn popups.
- Cueball: How about AIM Direct Connect? Anyone still use that?
- Cueball: Oh, wait, Dropbox! It's this recent startup from a few years back that syncs folders between computers. You just need to make an account, install the-
- Cueball: Oh, he just drove over to your house with a USB drive?
- Cueball: Uh, cool, that works too.
- I like how we've had the internet for decades, yet "sending files" is something early adopters are still figuring out how to do.