Sharing has been a key element in the maturing of Apple Computer's Mac OS X.

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Sharing is (or at least was) a critical part of growing up, and it’s been a critical element in the maturing of Apple Computer’s Mac OS X, too. Tiger and associated software include more ways to share than previous versions, though some methods are long-standing and quite overlooked.

As more homes have more computers networked through AirPort or Ethernet, sharing can increasingly save you frustration and time. Let’s look at the two most-useful methods.

Sharing files: Apple takes the prize for the first easy method of sharing files over a network: AppleShare. AppleShare appeared in very early versions of Macintosh system software, but it required a central and expensive server software package.

Apple released it from its server-tude in 1991 in System 7 by adding personal file sharing so that all Mac users could act as repositories of files for other users or themselves to access their files remotely. File sharing with AppleShare puts a remote folder or an entire hard drive on the desktop for access just like a local hard drive.

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To share files with AppleShare, select the Sharing pane in System Preferences. Click Services, and check Personal File Sharing. This announces to the network that you have an AppleShare file server running. The server is also reachable over the Internet if your computer has a public address.

You can mount an AppleShare volume from another computer as a guest without a password, but you only have access to the Public folder found in every individual user’s Home folder on the file-serving computer. Users (including yourself) with a log-in name and password can use those details to connect and access their own Home directory.

Panther and Tiger also let you share files with others over a local network or the Internet using FTP (file transfer protocol), a hoary but widely supported method, and Samba, which is interoperable with Windows. FTP and Samba (Windows Sharing) are turned on in the Sharing pane, too.

You can adjust AppleShare and Samba’s particulars with much more fine-grained control using the donation-ware package SharePoints (10.1 or later, www.hornware.com/sharepoints/). It lets you turn off guest access via AppleShare with a single button, for instance, or set up groups with identical access to files.

If you’re planning to let users access files from outside your local network, I’d avoid Apple’s FTP server, which is difficult to set up in the most sensibly secure fashion. Install PureFTPd Manager instead (10.2 or later, donation-ware, jeanmatthieu.free.fr/pureftpd/). This program combines a well-designed FTP server package with a graphical interface, and lets you set options as precise as allowing a user to access files via FTP only during certain hours of certain days.

To connect to your Mac’s (or any) FTP server, you could use the Desktop’s Connect to Server option, but I’ve found Apple’s support of FTP through this method erratic across every Mac OS X release. Instead, try Interarchy (10.2 or later, interarchy.com, $39) or Fetch (10.2 and later, fetchsoftworks.com, $25).

You can access both AppleShare and Samba volumes (including those shared by Windows machines) on a local network by selecting Network from the Go menu in the Finder. This browser displays everything that your Mac can see. Choosing Connect to Server from the Go menu lets you enter a particular network address and service type. For instance, connecting to a Samba server at a local address would look like smb://192.168.0.1. Windows users access Mac-shared Samba volumes via Network Neighborhood.

AppleShare and FTP allow guest access with no user account or password; Samba does not. All three methods are better controlled if you set up accounts on the machine that contains the files you’re sharing, or you can log in using your own Mac OS X log-in name and password. (Samba requires an extra step in Tiger; see the Sharing pane and follow directions.)

Sharing printers: There was a time when networked printers were expensive and sharing a printer connected to a single machine was a convoluted and inconsistent process. The expense and complexity are long gone, but consistency still isn’t 100 percent.

Apple offers printer sharing for any printer your computer is set up to use, whether connected via USB, Wi-Fi, Ethernet or a more obscure method. In Tiger, open System Preferences and click Print & Fax. The Sharing tab lets you enable Printer Sharing by checking the Share These Printers box. You can choose which printers to share by checking or unchecking a box next to them in the list below.

AirPort Extreme and Express Base Stations can also share a printer via their built-in USB port. By using a base station, you don’t need to leave a computer on. My wife and I have found this method problematic: She can’t print PDFs to our AirPort Express-connected printer — typically, they stall midstream — and I can. We’re using identical Mac OS X releases on an iBook and a PowerBook. Using OS X’s printer sharing seems somewhat more reliable.

Windows users aren’t left out, by the way. Apple uses its Bonjour (renamed from Rendezvous for Tiger allegedly because of trademark issues) to tell the network about these shared printers. Windows 2000, 2003 and XP users can install Apple’s Bonjour for Windows packages and generally print to these same shared printers (www.apple.com/support/downloads/bonjourforwindows_readme.html).

Glenn Fleishman writes the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications. Send questions to gfleishman@seattletimes.com. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists