Problematic network file transfer

Yesterday, I wanted to transfer a VirtualBox VM from my main computer to my ultrabook, in order to have a basic Ubuntu VM on my secondary machine. That operation happened to be harder than expected. First, I booted my two computers. My main machine is hooked up permanently to my router, but my ultrabook usually plugs using wi-fi. I plugged a USB to Ethernet adapter for faster network transfer.

From my ultrabook, I then pressed the Windows key to go into Metro and typed \\drake. This worked, showing me the Users and Data shares. I went into Users, then Eric, then found out there was only AppData as a subdirectory, no VirtualBox VMs. I didn’t want to copy VirtualBox VMs elsewhere, because I knew it would take five minutes just for this, but maybe I should have done that, after all.

Instead, I tried to share VirtualBox VMs separately: no success. The folder appeared on my ultrabook, but I was getting errors about insufficient permissions when I tried to browse it.

I searched for a solution, found articles about how to setup file sharing in Windows 7 without homegroups. Ah, maybe my ultrabook and my main computers are not in the same homegroups? I checked, they were in the same.

Some people are having incredible difficulties with file sharing since Windows 7, and some tried during hours and hours without success to solve the issues. They end up giving up on networking, use Ubuntu instead (but no Ubuntu on my ultrabook) or explore third party alternatives, like Cisco Network Magic (actually only available from third-party web sites not Cisco, which is very bad), Dropbox (limit on file sizes), etc.

I remembered I tried disconnecting my main PC’s Windows 8 from my Microsoft account to check if that was the factor causing slow login times. It wasn’t, and my ultrabook was still hooked up to my Microsoft account. I reconnected my main PC as this gives access to Windows store; who knows, I may have to get something from there. The different user accounts may have caused the connection issue. Nada, no difference.

I tried the other way round: connecting to my ultrabook from my main computer. No luck, the main computer could even not see the ultrabook. It really seemed that the two machines were running slightly different versions of Windows 8, not even compatible to the SMB level. SMB is the protocol used for file and printer sharing in Windows. It seemed I would have to format the ultrabook and install a genuine, non-Lenovo, Windows 8, or Windows 7. That annoyed me pretty well.

I got fed up and searched for a third party transfer tool. I though about Simple Socket File Transfer, but I didn’t remember the exact name and I knew it would force me to install this on both machines and figure out IP addresses. Then I found Filedrop, a small utility allowing to share files between two computers with less difficulty. The tool installed without problems, on both machines, and the two computers saw each other. However, it didn’t provide any option to add files; I had to drag and drop from an Explorer window. But my Explorer windows take the full screen so any attempt to drag and drop is an hassle consisting of moving/resizing windows around. But I guessed I had no choice and did it.

The transfer didn’t start. Well, I had to accept the file on the other end. I did it, that started to transfer… very slowly. After more than half an hour, only 25% of the data was transferred. Why is it so long??? I tried a SSH-based transfer between my Windows box and my Ubuntu-based HTPC and that would take 3 minutes.

Very tired of having difficulties transferring files between computers and having regularly to fall back to USB keys or external hard drives, I got pissed off, tired of having to try the USB plug in one direction, then the other, then again the other, until I get lucky and it worked. I heard about a variant of USB3 with two-sided connection. I was so exhausted of having computer issues of all kinds every weekend that I was ready to make almost anything necessary to get this two-sided plug. I hoped I would get it using adapters, but maybe I would have to install a PCI Express card in my main computer and some USB dongle on my ultrabook, or maybe switch board and machine. But it was even worse than this: I will have to wait indefinitely for USB 3.1 motherboards to come onto market.

Filedrop ended up aborting the transfer. Some other issues forced me to restart the computer or log out and log back in, I don’t remember exactly. But after that, I retested Windows file sharing and that worked. I retried the transfer. But that was slow again. I then found out that although there was a USB-based Ethernet adapter, Windows 8.1 was stupidly using wi-fi to transfer data!!! I disabled wi-fi and got a reasonable transfer speed. It took maybe 10 minutes transferring the VirtualBox VM. Note that the USB to Ethernet adapter was just 100 Mbps, not a Gigabit one.

So to recap, I got issues with mismatching user account type in Windows 8.1 and networking problem because my ultrabook chose wrongly to use wi-fi instead of Ethernet.