Former AOLers Bet on Private P2P App

A trio of former America Online executives wants to prove there's a place in the enterprise for a legal file-sharing application.

Is there a place in the enterprise for a legal file-sharing application using peer-to-peer technology?

Three former America Online Inc. executives with a history of entrepreneurial success believe they have the answer with Grouper, an encrypted P2P network that integrates file sharing, instant messaging and multimedia streaming.Josh Felser, who hit pay dirt with the $320 million sale of to AOL in 1999, is one of the key people behind the Mill Valley, Calif.-based Grouper, the company he created with former AOL colleagues Dave Samuel and Mike Sitrin.

"Our technology turns the computer into a private server that allows you to share files securely in a small, invite-only group," Felser said in an interview with Each group becomes an encrypted peer-to-peer network that allows one-click access to browse and download files.

Currently in beta, Grouper limits private networks to 30 members. While file sharing is a key feature in the application, there is no uploading/downloading of music, Felser explained, citing the legal issues associated with sharing of copyrighted works.

By limiting music sharing to streams in small groups, Felser said Grouper simply enables "private performances," which is protected by U.S. Copyright Law.

"Were not a public file-sharing network. What we offer is a way to connect to hard drives within a group in a safe, encrypted environment," he said.

/zimages/3/28571.gifFor a look at the security concerns of P2P, click here.

During the stealth beta, Grouper is free and being marketed as a consumer application. But, in Felsers mind, the application will evolve into a workplace collaboration tool for the SMB (small and medium-size business) segment.

"Think of it as a simplified collaboration tool similar to Groove," he said, referring to the high-end enterprise software sold by Groove Networks. "Weve been approached by lots of companies who see this as an accessible way to connect and share larger files in an encrypted environment."

"Groove is complex and more of an app for larger enterprises. Were aiming for the smaller workgroups," Felser added.

Grouper will also be marketed as a remote access tool for business use, much like the Go2MyPC utility sold by Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Citrix Online.

Felser envisions a premium version of Grouper offering remote access to e-mails, desktop folders, applications and file transfers from anywhere.

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