If you have hit a wall with the simple file and printer sharing features offered by Windows, Unix/Linux, and Mac, it might be time to consider network-attached storage (NAS). Sister site LinuxPlanet runs down five free or open source NAS servers.
NAS servers offer a central place where you can store, access, and share files and documents on the local network, and possibly over the Internet. They are especially useful in multiple operating system environments, as they usually support all the sharing protocols.
You can buy off-the-shelf NAS servers or enclosures, which are set up and ready to plug into the network. However, to save money and for more customization, you might want to set up your own server. You can install the server software onto any old PC that's loaded with a sizable hard drive(s) and an Ethernet adapter. Once you've installed it, you can unplug the monitor, keyboard, and mouse.
FreeNAS is arguably the most popular open source NAS project. It is a minimal FreeBSD 7.2 distribution with a web interface, PHP scripts, and documentation based on m0n0wall. It is released under the BSD license. It can be installed onto a Compact Flash, USB flash, or hard drive, or booted directly from a LiveCD.
CryptoNAS (formerly CryptoBox) is a NAS project concentrating on disk encryption. They provide a Linux-based LiveCD that incorporates encryption with a NAS server. Plus they offer a package that's installable onto existing Linux-based servers, adding the user friendly web-based frontend for disk encryption. They are licensed under the GPL.
Openfiler is another full-fledged NAS server, like FreeNAS. It's a Linux distribution based on rPath. It's released under the GPLv2 license. It's installable onto PCs or servers, plus it can run as a virtual machine instance. Openfiler is a heavier server requiring more on the minimum specs: 1GHz CPU, 2GB RAM, 10GB disk space, and an Ethernet adapter.
NASLite-M2 is one of a few commercial Linux-based NAS distributions developed by Server Elements. It's available via a downloadable ISO CD image file for $34.95. Unfortunately, it's not freely distributable.
NanoNAS is also from Server Elements and is the slimmest version of the NASLite server. Again, it's Linux-based but is commercialized and thus not freely distributable. You can download it for $9.95. The NanoNAS CD-ROM can run in two modes, both booting off and saving the configuration settings to floppy disk. The NanoNAS SMB mode supports SMB/CIFS and HTTP, primarily for Windows clients. The NanoNAS AFP mode supports AFP and HTTP and is designed for Mac OS X clients.
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