Sharing over a Network versus Sharing on One MacBook

Sharing documents on a single MacBook is fundamentally different from the file sharing that you’ve used on a network. True, multiple users can share a document over a network, but although the results are the same, the way that you share that same document on a single machine betwixt multiple users is a completely different turn of the screw.

Lion’s new AirDrop feature allows many folks with Macs running Lion to easily transfer files wirelessly between their computers. Technically, AirDrop is a network file transfer method rather than a file sharing method.

No network is required to share documents on your MacBook

Although reiterating that no network is required is seemingly the most obvious of statements, many otherwise knowledgeable Mac OS X power users seem to forget that sharing a document over a network requires an active network connection. (Note the word active there.)

Unless you physically copy the document to your hard drive — which defeats the purpose of document sharing — any loss of network connectivity or any problem with your network account will result in a brick wall and a brightly painted sign reading, “No luck, Jack.” (Or perhaps it’s flashing neon.)

On the other hand, a document shared on a multiuser MacBook in the home or classroom is available whenever you need it.

As long as the file is located in the Shared folder, the file privileges are set correctly, and you know the password (if one is required by the application, such as a password-protected Word document), then — as they say on “Star Trek” — “You have the conn” whether your network connection is active or not.

Rely on a guaranteed lock on your MacBook

Sharing documents over a network can get a tad hairy when multiple users open and edit the document simultaneously. Many applications, such as Office 2011 for the Mac, have methods of locking the document (giving one person exclusive access) when someone opens it or saves it. However, you always face the possibility that what you’re seeing in a shared network document isn’t exactly what’s in the document at that moment.

A multiuser system doesn’t need such exquisite complexity. You’re the one sitting at the keyboard, and you have control: This is what network administrators call a guaranteed lock on that document file. Refreshing, isn’t it?

But wait! Mac OS X Lion includes a feature called Fast User Switching that allows other users to remain logged in behind the scenes while another user is at the keyboard. Therefore, if you enable Fast User Switching, two users could have the same document open at the same time.

To prevent this, you can simply turn off Fast User Switching from the Accounts pane in System Preferences. (Click Accounts, click Login Options, and clear the Enable Fast User Switching check box.)

It’s also possible for someone to use Lion’s Remote Login feature to login to their account across the Internet. You can disable this feature by opening the System Preferences window, clicking the Share icon, and deselecting the Remote Login check box.

Most places are off-limits

Network users are often confident that they can blithely copy and move a document from one place to another with the greatest of ease, and that’s true. Most shared network documents created by an application — such as a project outline created in Word, for example — carry their own sharing information and document settings internally.

Thus, you can move that same file to another folder on your hard drive, and the rest of the network team can still open it. (If they have the network rights to access the new folder, of course.)

This isn’t the case when it comes to multiuser documents. Mac OS X places a rather tight fence around a standard-level user, allowing that person to access only the contents of certain folders. In this case, your document must be placed in the Shared folder for every standard-level user to be able to open it.

(Alternatively, the document can be stored on an external hard drive, allowing every user account on your system to access it.) If everyone using the document has administrator access, you can store the file in other spots on your system; as long as the permissions are set, you’re set.

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