June 29, 2006

Easy file sharing with AllPeers

Author: Dmitri Popov

With so many file-sharing applications and Web-based services, why do we keep sending huge files via email and spend time uploading our photos to a third-party service so we can share them with our friends and family? Probably because none of the existing options provides a file-sharing solution that is easy to use, foolproof, and secure. But a new Firefox extension called AllPeers, currently in restricted beta, may change that.

AllPeers installation is not particularly complicated. Point your browser to the download page and select the extension for your platform. Once you've restarted the browser to enable the extension, you fill out a simple activation form, and AllPeers is ready to go. During the private beta testing, you must be invited by AllPeers in order to activate the extension. The first public beta of AllPeers is expected in early July.

Naturally, before you can share your files, you have to add contacts. To do this, simply press the Add a Contact button on the AllPeers toolbar, enter the contact's email address or AllPeers user name, choose the group you want (by default, you can choose between Friends and Family) and press the Add Contact button. In order for other users to see your shared files, they have to add you to their AllPeers list as well.

Now you can add the files and folders that you want to share with the added user. Press the Share button on the AllPeers toolbar and drag the files and folders you want to share onto the Share window. Select then the users you want to share the files with from the user list and press Share.

Using AllPeers, you can share whatever files you want: OpenOffice.org documents, pictures, and Web pages. Actually, if you want to share Web pages, you don't even have to download them. Simply drag the link from the browser's address field onto the user's name in the AllPeers Navigator sidebar, and press the Share button in the Share sidebar.

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Of course, when it comes to file sharing, security is a primary concern. I asked Matthew Gertner of AllPeers about how secure AllPeers actually is. For example, would it be possible for a bad guy to assume the identity of a user in my Friends group and "plant" malware on other users' machines? Gertner says, "All communication in AllPeers is encrypted using standard protocols like SSL, so it's impossible for anyone to eavesdrop on private communication. Users are authenticated using a public/private key pair obtained during the registration process. So to take your specific example, it would be impossible for someone to pose as your friend since they wouldn't have the necessary authentication credentials. Using AllPeers doesn't require opening any specific ports. In general, I would argue that a modern application like AllPeers that takes advantage of all our knowledge and experience about security issues is far safer than older technologies like email that were created in a more innocent age."

Finally, the inevitable question is AllPeers's revenue model. While the specifics of AllPeers's business strategy are still in the works, the company plans to offer options for buying content as well as sharing free content. According to Matthew Gertner, other paid services that are under consideration are connectivity to mobile devices, photo printing, and "Always On" hosting for content (for people who don't want to or can't leave Firefox running all the time).

All in all, while there are some kinks in the AllPeers extension that must be sorted out before the public release (most notably, re-installing the extension requires a manual reset of your account at AllPeers' end), the software looks very promising, indeed.

Dmitri Popov is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in Russian, British, and Danish computer magazines.

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