Punch WebGroups go multimedia

Punch Networks Corp. is adding Java-based MP3 playback to its Punch WebGroups Web storage and sharing application, while touting the new feature as a copyright-friendly answer to Napster-style file sharing.

Also added to Punch WebGroups 4.0 are slide show and synchronization capabilities. As with earlier versions, subscriptions start at US$99 annually for 100MB of storage space.

The basic idea of Punch WebGroups hasn't changed since the service debuted online in 1999. By storing files on Punch's server, you have access to them from any computer with an Internet connection. And so does anyone whom you have identified as a collaborator.

But according to Punch, that's where access stops. Punch Networks is "Quite likely the most secure place to put a file on the Internet," according to Dave Campbell, Punch Networks president.

Security and Sounds

The company sees security as one advantage of its new Punch Player, a major part of WebGroups 4.0. The Player is basically FreedomAudio's Java-based FreedomAudio Player integrated into WebGroups. It lets you upload and download MP3 files to and from the Internet "without the risk of illegal file-sharing that has torpedoed services like Napster," according to Punch. Only the people you let in will have access to your music collection.

The Player adds a light touch to a fundamentally business-oriented service. According to Campbell, subscribers are already storing MP3 files in their WebGroups for convenient access on other computers. The player simply makes playing these sounds easier.

But the convenience has its limits. For instance, the Player does not support playlists. You can play individual MP3 files or play all of the songs in a folder, sorted by name. Consequently, your Player might go from "I'll Be Seeing You" to "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida"-- not exactly an aesthetic choice.

Other New Functions

Another addition to 4.0 is a simple slide show program for viewing stored image files--a feature useful for both work and play. But once again, you can't control the order of the photos displayed without renaming the files.

Punch WebGroups' Public Document Access lets you publish documents so that everyone on the Internet has read-only access to them. Of course, a Web page does the same thing. According to Campbell, Public Document Access is primarily a convenience for publishing documents already up on WebGroups.

Finally, the WebDrive Synchronization Engine synchronizes the files of your choice between your local hard drive and the Punch server (and thus with other computers that you and your coworkers have access to). Punch plans to spin the engine out as a separate product while keeping it a part of WebGroups.

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