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Email gets a bodyguard

Tumbleweed's new Posta document shipping system protects email attachments from getting lost or mangled.

Tumbleweed wants to cash in on consumers' frustration with receiving garbled or evaporated email attachments with the release of its document shipping system Posta.

The company will ship the final version of Posta on Monday. Posta is designed to send attached email documents more reliably than traditional email applications, which often mangle or lose attachments due to incompatibilities between gateway software.

The demand for electronic document shipping systems that are efficient, reliable, and which authenticate senders, has attracted some big players.

United Parcel Service said yesterday that it is testing a service by NetDox that could launch as early as this fall. The service will use "digital certificates" to verify sender identities and strong encryption to block unauthorized readers from viewing documents.

The U.S. Post Office has already introduced the Postal Electronic Commerce Services (Postal ECS), an electronic postmark that verifies the time and date a message was sent and confirms whether a "letter" has been tampered with.

Here's how Posta works:

Internet service providers or businesses buy the Posta server, which handles the transactions. ISP customers or employees get a Posta account they can use over the Web.

Users supply the recipient's email address; pick the documents they want to send and the level of security--encryption, password protection, or both; and specify the date the document will expire. Recipients get an email notice that includes a Web address, generated by the Posta server, where their documents securely reside.

"Posta is not just a super-powered email program," said Jennifer Wu, Posta's product manger. "We just want to get a document from here to there without using FedEx or email. Posta can handle the delivery of any type of formatted document, even software. [Shipments]will be readable and intact."

Tumbleweed charges businesses per Posta account. A server and software for 20 users costs $3,999. Additional software costs $189 per user. ISPs could offer customers Posta for a few more dollars a month, Wu said, or charge per document.

Users can also create mailing lists or Posta drop boxes on their desktop, for dragging and dropping documents to be sent to a specific recipient instantly.

Electronic publishers such as the New York Times are beta-testing Posta. The Times sends the electronic version of its newspaper to subscribers and can see who reads what through Posta's tracking capabilities.

Because ISPs are struggling to turn profits, they could make the investment to generate more revenue, said Stan Dolberg, director of software strategies for Forrester Research.

"For example, companies might be willing to pay extra money per month to have a secure, reliable document delivery service between their business partners," he said.

"But the market would be small businesses. Now they have email connections to communicate with customers and partners; this would be an added function. It could also increase the accountability of their document transactions and help them meet time-sensitive negotiation deadlines."