A first-of-a-kind online data storage product seeks to ease the way consumers share their digital photos, music, video and documents.

For example, one can e-mail friends a link to new vacation photos, and the recipient can simply click on it without having to download additional software or register for an account — a common practice with existing online photo-sharing services.

Currently code-named Project Fusion, the offering from hard drive maker Maxtor Corp. (MXO) and startup Fabrik Inc. will give consumers a large-capacity hard drive appliance that acts as a personal server.

It comes with software to let owners access the files on that device over the Internet. And users can create links for others to access those files.

Many services already exist for sharing photos, video and other files, and other hardware companies offer so-called networked-attached storage devices. But those machines have so far been geared for businesses or technically savvy home users who know how to set up their own computer networks.

The difference with Project Fusion, analysts say, is how it incorporates many of those elements and services into a single product designed more for the everyday consumer.

"I think it's the foundation of something really big," said analyst Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group. "But there will be a problem in trying to find a way in describing this without all the technical jargon. I call it a personal media portal."

Indeed, Fabrik and Maxtor officials say they don't yet have a name chosen for the product, which will be available late in the second quarter. Prices are not yet determined, but Maxtor says it will cost as much as $799 for a 500-gigabyte model.

Maxtor will also offer versions of its One Touch external hard drives for as low as $199, bundling them with a service package that lets users send their files to be stored on Fabrik's servers.

The service fees will start roughly at $50 a year for about 10 gigabytes of data — enough for about 8,000 photos at a 3-megapixel resolution.

The companies describe their offering as an easy way to store and manage the massive amounts of media-rich content that people are gathering in their personal lives.

"What we're allowing is access anywhere, anytime, that can be unique to the user and flexible enough to meet different people's characteristics," said Mike Williams, a general manager at Maxtor. "And this is a whole new level of sharing."

Under the system, users can organize their photos, video or documents as they wish, using applications and formats of their own choice. Using the software created by Fabrik, they also can easily search for the data and tailor it before sharing with others.

For wedding photos, for instance, users could quickly create separate albums for the groom's family and one for the bride's family, and send them accordingly.

Files embedded with copy protections, such as songs purchased from online music stores, would still carry their original restrictions, however, so users would not be able to distribute the movies or songs en masse to others via the Internet.

Leading Internet portals such as Yahoo Inc. (YHOO) and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) already allow users to upload and store photos on their servers. And many analysts expect the deep-pocketed companies, along with Google Inc. (GOOG), to expand their online storage offerings, competing with Maxtor and Fabrik's Project Fusion.

"They're the first ones out there with an integrated approach to sharing content," said Charlene Li, an industry analyst at market researcher Forrester Research. "But there will be fast followers."