These days I get plenty of e-mail, particularly from my fellow Penn Staters, with unnecessary e-mail attachments. I say unnecessary because all Penn State Access Account holders have access to at least 50MB of shared enterprise wide file storage space. This space, which we refer to as Penn State Access Storage Space or PASS (http://cac.psu.edu/ait/storagespace.html) is the same space which we use for your Personal Pages (http://www.personal.psu.edu/), your WebMail service (http://webmail.psu.edu), the Penn State Student Portal (https://portal.psu.edu/), and CAC UNIX Cluster home directories.
The technology behind PASS is a network filesystem known as the DCE Distributed Filesystem or simply DFS. DFS is not the first network filesystem, it is not the only network filesystem, and it is certainly not the most widely used filesystem, but it is one of the best designed network filesystems available. Using software from IBM Transarc or Entegrity Solutions, PASS is available directly on most UNIX variants (AIX, HP-UX, IRIX, Solaris, Tru64), Windows NT, and the IBM Mainframe OS/390 operating system. Software will soon be available for Windows 2000 and Linux. Users of Windows 98, ME, and soon MacOS will be able to access their PASS space through gateway software running on NT or UNIX servers (see: https://www.work.psu.edu/pass/)
PASS users can share files with each other via the filesystem (link to SMB and NT DFS client), the Web, or the file transfer protocol (FTP). Access to your PASS can be controlled by modifying the Access Control Lists (ACLs) on the files and directories, to allow or disallow reading, writing, or modification (see ACL explorer link) by other users or groups of users. I personally use this to allow my students to "drop off" their homework assignments in my PASS space. By setting the ACLs properly, each student can view his work and not that of anyone else. This way, my student's assignments don't get lost in the 200 or so e-mail messages I receive daily. The date stamp on the file proves to me that the homework was handed in on time.
Returning to e-mail, while people will continue to send e-mail attachments, allow me to suggest alternatives. I often receive e-mail from someone, with the text of the message saying, "Here is the draft of our strategic plan" or "Here is my latest cut of ..." and an e-mail attachment containing several megabytes of text, Word Documents, PDF files, or Powerpoint slides. I am not the only one to receive this, often it is an entire academic department or even a College. In one case, I received an e-mail about viruses on e-mail attachments which went to over 300 individuals. The attachment was 1.5 MB, and since most of the recipients use the Access e-mail system, that's almost 450 MB of space used on one message. When I point this out to people, they say, "yes, but that was a special message." The problem is that this argument doesn't scale. If everyone felt this way, we would very quickly run out of space on the Access e-mail system. The irony was not lost on me that this was an e-mail warning about e-mail attachments.
So, what you ask are the alternatives? Instead of attaching a draft of a document to a list of reviewers, give your reviewers a URL to the draft. Since it is a draft, you can revise the document as you receive e-mail from the reviewers and notify them that the draft has been updated without sending them the whole text again.
I often give people two URLs, one of the form "http://" and one of the form "file:/". For example, this article can be found at:
If the user doesn't have access to PASS, the first one works, if the user has access to PASS, they both work.
If this article was being written by more than one person, I could set permissions on the file using ACL Explorer to allow my co-authors to view and even write the file. I could enable my whole "articles" directory (or folder) for writing by someone I work with often. This method can also be used to allow multiple people to access and edit the same web space. This is how we create Departmental Web Space (http://www.psu.edu/dept/) for Penn State Departments and Colleges.
As the old saying goes, "If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Hopefully, this article and the links contained within it will provide additional tools which allow you to collaborate with your fellow Penn Staters.