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Will all files follow email to the Web?

Clearly, people like getting their email through the Web, and a new service is betting that they'll want to access everything that way.

Clearly, people like getting their email through the Web, and a new service is betting that they'll want to access everything that way.

A Silicon Valley start-up believes it Portals: the new desktop? has developed a way to capitalize on this interest and at the same time solve a very recent problem: Now that a growing number of people rely on a cell phone, handheld, notebook PC, and a desktop computer to stay connected, how do the ultra-plugged-in keep information on each device current?

The solution, according to FusionOne, is an Internet-based technology that recognizes and updates information across a personal network of unrelated devices of different sizes and platforms. And it's not just about devices: A traveler using an Internet-connected kiosk, for instance, could call up FusionOne's site and access documents.

FusionOne's first offering, Internet Sync, is a free download that asks users to indicate which files they want to access. It seamlessly synchronizes digital information between devices in a manner similar to existing synchronization schemes from companies like Puma or Starfish. But unlike these technologies, Internet Sync allows users to access the most recent updates to almost any file on their own personal hard drive back at the office, including word processing documents, spreadsheets, MP3 music files, browser cookies, as well as calendar and contact information.

The technology is part of a trend, in which Web portal sites are rapidly emerging as a computing alternative to the traditional way of using a PC. (See related story.)

Internet Sync does not redistribute applications, but pushes out updates to existing desktop files, so the bandwidth and storage space needed is minimal, according to the company. "We're not moving applications, just content," said FusionOne chief executive and co-founder Rick Onyon.

Limited storage
In essence, Internet Sync allows a user to view his or her personal digital information from anywhere that offers an Internet connection. The company also offers a Web site, Edock, which allows users to log in and access all of their files. Each user gets 25MB of space for free on FusionOne's hard drives. After that a premium service, which includes more storage capacity, can be had for $39.95 a month.

This type of service is likely to take off as hardware companies introduce all manner of digital devices whose sole purpose is Internet access. As these non-PC gadgets become more popular, the thinking goes, the legacy software--including the Windows operating system and suites of productivity software--will fade in both importance and relevance as easy-to-use Internet-based software predominates.

Most Web portal sites are already offering a limited version of the service, with personalized Web-based calendar, email, and contact management features. Internet Sync "is in line with what we're seeing as something important for sharing data," said Ross Rubin, vice president of Jupiter Communications.

"I think that it will have a lot of value for people who are struggling with multiple devices. That is an attractive audience; however it's a limited one," he said.

Although the company is one of the first to expand simple calendar and contact synchronization services to include almost any type of information stored on a hard drive, "they're not alone in the marketplace. They can expect to see other people in the space respond to their announcement and become more aggressive," Rubin said.

Launches in August
When it launches in August, Internet Sync will support all Microsoft Windows files and Palm Computing's operating system. Eventually, the company promises to support Apple's Macintosh platform and most standard cell phones.

FusionOne plans to give away the service for free to build up a customer base. It will offset these costs by selling advertising, premium versions of the service, and by partnering with ISPs, hardware companies, and portal sites. FusionOne's Onyon believes that Internet Sync is a natural choice for ISPs and portals who are looking to increase the "stickiness" of their services.

"The free proliferation of the basic client is a great way to build an audience," Rubin said, adding that partnering with a hardware company that manufacturers different types of digital devices would be a better fit than bundling Internet Sync solely on PCs. "There's an opportunity," he said.

The company and its service may also be attractive as an acquisition, Rubin said, to companies like Palm Computing. FusionOne will introduce Internet Sync on June 21 at the Digital Living Room conference in Southern California. The free service will be tested throughout the summer and will officially launch in August.