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Audiogalaxy founder tries new P2P venture

Former file-swapping champion now has eyes on small-business tools.

Two years after finding his way off the recording industry's "most wanted" list, Audiogalaxy founder Michael Merhej is back with a new peer-to-peer software venture.

The Austin, Texas, programmer's new company, ByteTaxi, is aimed at people who work on more than one computer or at small teams of people collaborating on a project. His FolderShare software, which will be officially released in its completed form Tuesday, is similar to the autosynchronization features on Palm handhelds or iPods but instead keeps files on two or more Net-connected computers up-to-date with each other.

"A person only has one set of files, but often uses two computers," Merhej said. "I always thought that was the real problem for people who have multiple computers."

With his latest venture, Merhej joins the ranks of the peer-to-peer developers who for years have been trying to turn the technology into an everyday tool instead of an entertainment industry nightmare.

A few other companies, most notably Lotus Notes creator Ray Ozzie's Groove Networks, are gaining some success in this space. Groove has even worked closely with Microsoft to make the company's software function well with Windows and Outlook.

Merhej's Audiogalaxy was one of the most popular post-Napster file-swapping services for music lovers. At its peak, it attracted hundreds of thousands of users at a time and was widely viewed as the best of the competing services for finding obscure or out-of-circulation songs.

The company was ultimately sued by the Recording Industry Association of America for contributing to widespread copyright infringement. Merhej settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed sum.

Like more familiar peer-to-peer networks, FolderShare lets computer users open up access to part of their hard drives to other computers on the Net. A person running the software can use it to transfer large files that are blocked by some e-mail services or let it automatically sync files between multiple machines.

Merhej sees the software being most useful to people who create large files at work and need to bring them home or for teams of people who are collaborating on a project. He says some people are already using it for features such as accessing a home music collection while at work.

The project could in theory be used to trade copyrighted files, but Merhej said the lack of a search function made it much less useful for that feature than services like Kazaa or eDonkey.