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The new face of Web collaboration

The new face of Web collaboration

It is a paradox that despite the increasingly distributed nature of the corporate work force, workers still must rely on centralised file servers to share files - a method that was convenient in the days when office-bound workgroups were always connected by a LAN. Today, remote and mobile workers need a means of sharing files and information directly, and overburdening e-mail servers isn't the answer.

Enter peer computing. Instead of requiring users to move documents to a central server in order to share information, peer computing moves the server information to each of these devices. Recognising that tremendous quantities of useful information are contained on devices at the edge of the network and geared for the way today's scattered groups actually work, peer computing is ideal for enterprises seeking to benefit from collaborative, efficient and real-time sharing of data within a distributed network.

Because a distributed architecture is much more difficult to manage than a centralised server, peer-to-peer applications must address challenges in security, policy and workflow. One peer-to-peer collaboration solution that meets these challenges successfully is Magi Enterprise 2.0 from Endeavors Technology. Based on Internet standards, including WebDAV (Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning), Magi Enterprise allows co-workers, business partners, customers and any other group with joint objectives to share files and other information directly and securely via the Internet.

Magi Enterprise 2.0 is a cross-platform, cross-device peer-to-peer collaboration solution that provides instant messaging and threaded discussion groups as well as file-sharing capabilities. Magi Enterprise is easy to use and contains powerful file sharing, collaboration and security features, but it currently lacks support for Mac and Linux. For those reasons we gave it a score of Consider.

The principal new features in Version 2.0 are encryption and authentication tools. For starters, Magi supports X.509 PKI (Public Key Infrastructure) over SSL (Secure Sockets Layer). Using this combination allows security certificates from recognised X.509 certificate authorities to establish the true identity of any Magi-enabled peer device, ensuring that peers communicate only with known, authorised peers, and that random hosts outside of the protected network cannot be used as launching points for an attack.

We installed Magi Enterprise without any problems. Magi Enterprise installs on a Windows 95, 98, NT, 2000, or XP computer, turning that PC into a read/write WebDAV server that allows any authorised user with a Web browser to view and annotate shared files. Magi's WebDAV support not only allows users to access remote resources such as files and folders across a network. It also allows users and their workgroups to publish directly to the Web, and it allows workgroups to collaboratively author documents in place on the Web.

Magi Enterprise users can limit access to their computers or files to selected individuals or groups. After installation, the first thing we did was create a buddy list and collaborative groups such as test centre, marketing and HR. Whenever you create a collaborative group, a subfolder in your shared folder is created automatically.

We then added our buddies to their specific groups, and by doing so we created a secure collaborative environment. We were then able to drag and drop files to a buddy's designated folder, allowing the file to be worked on while remaining stored in our Magi shared folder. To prevent groups from mixing up versions of shared documents, Magi locks files when they are being used.

We were also able to communicate by chatting with co-workers or groups from our buddy list. Magi's instant messaging feature, called Messages, was another option to communicate with fellow co-workers, a feature we found helpful, especially when we needed a quick response to resolve an issue. Magi Messages are "instant" when the buddy with whom you are messaging is online; when the recipient is offline, messages are stored, then forwarded when the buddy becomes available again. This is handy if you need to deliver a message to users who may or may not be concurrently online.

Threaded discussions, or chat, are most useful for simultaneous group communication, where participants post their messages to a message board. Starting a chat session requires the initial participant to set up a channel that serves as the common message board. Others can then join the channel to view messages and post their own.

To jump-start creating groups and assigning access privileges, Magi provides default folders that offer different levels access to the people on and off your buddy list. You can also create custom folders and assign access permission to them as desired. Users can specify which of their buddies and groups can access a particular folder, allowing them to securely share content and information.

For WebDAV-based document collaboration, Magi works with the most commonly used off-the-shelf software such as Microsoft Office 2000, Adobe's software tools, and dozens of other commercial and open-source tools. So instead of using a Web browser to read and download a shared file, a user could engage an application to read and write a file directly to any Web server that gives them permission to do so. Magi automates the authentication, access control and necessary file locking. Using any WebDAV client, a user could drag and drop, cut, copy, paste, change the names and even create directories and folders on any Magi server as if it were a local file system.

Peer-to-peer computing faces a bewildering mix of security issues not applicable to traditional secure-computing paradigms. Chat, instant messaging and file transfers require robust and well-designed security mechanisms. Magi Enterprise allows companies to take advantage of secure peer-to-peer services while leveraging existing Web development tools, Web browsers and productivity tools. Furthermore, Magi Enterprise can help keep employees productive without putting corporate information at risk. Enterprises that need to give widely distributed users fast, easy access to one another's information and ideas should consider a peer-to-peer solution such as Magi Enterprise.

The bottom line - Magi Enterprise Version 2.0Business Case: This peer-to-peer software allows companies to set up a secure, real-time file sharing and collaboration solution without big investments in server hardware or IT resources.

Technology Case: Magi Enterprise provides secure, cross-platform instant messaging, threaded discussions and file sharing via the Web, using PKI authentication and SSL encryption to protect each peer connection.

Pros:

+ Easy to use and administer.

+ Good security and privacy tools.

+ Supports browser-based file sharing.

Cons:

- Lacks support for Mac and Linux.

Cost: $US90 to $45 per seat, depending on volume.

Platform(s): Windows 98/NT/2000/XP; Windows 95 with some patches.

Endeavors Technology has not yet appointed a local distributor.


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