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Minbox merges e-mail and the cloud for frictionless file sharing

Marco Tabini | May 23, 2013
Sharing files is often an exercise in patience, marred by slow upload speeds and complex workflows. Minbox, a newly-launched free service for OS X, aims to change all that.

In most of the world, the asymmetric nature of your average Internet connection means that, unless you are lucky enough to be on a corporate network or fiber reaches your house, sending large files to your friends and colleagues is often an exercise that requires a lot of patience. Most of it is spent waiting for files to upload and dealing with complex workflows that tend to take up more time than they're worth.

This is where the recently-launched Minbox comes into play. Its developers have set their sights on turning file sharing into as frictionless a workflow as possible, while keeping costs down to a rather cool zero dollars.

There is, of course, no shortage of competing products that attempt to reduce the stress of sharing data--Dropbox and Droplr come to mind--but their focus is primarily on providing you with storage in the cloud, rather than on simplifying the process of sharing one or more files with a specific group of people. It's this latter case that Minbox hopes to streamline.

Sharing with flair
Minbox is made up of two components: a cloud-based backend and a small OS X app that is free, weighs in at a little more than 1MB, and works with Snow Leopard or later. Once installed, and after going through a few set-up steps, the app sits quietly in OS X's menu bar, awaiting your orders.

The company has adopted a queuing system that requires users to sign up for the service and then wait while more and more slots are opened on its backend--a mechanism more recently used by the developers of the Mailbox app, which, coincidentally, was later acquired by Minbox rival Dropbox. Luckily, at least when I tried it, the queue was only about three or four days long.

Data first
Minbox is exceedingly easy to use: You simply drag one or more files over to it, type in a your recipients and an optional message, and hit Send. In the background, the app proceeds to upload your files to a cloud-based location, and then notifies the recipients that the data is ready for download.

In a way, this is similar to sending an e-mail, but, in reality, it is much cleverer. For one thing, e-mail can only transfer data in textual form; binary files have to first be converted to a format known as base64, which adds considerable overhead, slowing down your transfer even further and consuming more bandwidth.

If that weren't bad enough, your e-mail message must then be sent to every recipient individually, creating multiple copies, and, potentially, a considerable amount of animosity from your friends and colleagues--something that anyone who has ever had to deal with receiving gigabyte attachments in their inbox can relate to.


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