Microsoft is getting sucked headfirst into the fast-spinning world of peer-to-peer computing whether it wants to or not: XDegrees, a small P2P start-up, has developed a plug-in for Microsoft Outlook that turns it into a peer-based Internet file sharing application.
XDegrees this week will demonstrate XOutlook, a tiny piece of code that lets users of Microsoft's popular e-mail program instantly share files on their hard drives with anyone over the Internet.
It's not quite like Napster: The software is intended to be used in small workgroups, and it requires that users specify exactly with whom they want to share files. And while XOutlook is just a demo for now the company has not decided whether it will distribute the code publicly it embodies a stampede by dozens of companies to build new kinds of P2P software and services.
Some observers believe peer-to-peer computing, in which individual computers act as both clients and servers, represents the next great wave of Internet innovation.
Michael Tanne, chief executive of XDegrees, said the company's engineers wrote XOutlook quickly in about five weeks as a showcase for its back-end peer-to-peer infrastructure services. XDegrees' eXtensible Resource Naming System, based on the Internet's Domain Name System, provides a mechanism for locating and retrieving files or resources on any Net-connected PC.
The 7-month-old company plans to license access to XRNS to other P2P software developers; essentially, XDegrees wants to operate a global resource directory for any and all P2P programs.
But the ease with which XDegrees was able to turn Microsoft Outlook into a file sharing P2P client could raise concerns about the system's security. Might a malicious hacker figure out a way to tap into the XDegrees system and access private files?
Tanne said XDegrees was designed from the beginning to be secure. The system encrypts files before they're transferred and digitally signs them to ensure they haven't been tampered with.