PACKET RAT

Rat does the groove thing, finds what goes around comes back

R. Fink

For the Rat, some trade shows are like big techie love-ins.

There's a free exchange of ideas, positive vibes in birds-of-a-feather sessions, the thrill of teach-ins and the energy that comes from being part of the event.

But then there are shows like last month's Internet World'a big downer. Since last April's Nasdaq Stock Market drop sucked the wind out of the dot-com sails, Internet World has been more like the Donner Party than a big launch party.

So it was with diminished expectations that the Rat roamed the halls of the Javits Convention Center in New York. He had one goal: find something, amid all the hype, that he could use. It proved a challenge, as some dot-com types had spent the last of their start-up capital on their 20- by 20-foot booths. A few companies folded their tents on the first day. Modo.net went under even before its official launch party.

'Whoa, this place looks like the leftovers of Woodstock,' the whiskered one said to a fellow fed, up for the day on the Metroliner. 'I've lost count of the smoking ruins of companies.'

Along with a shortage of substance was an even more obvious shrinking supply of company names. Now that most dictionary names and common misspellings have already been seized as domain names, dot-coms are resorting to such things as the name of an overweight desert lizard, Chuckwalla'claimed by a Web content management software company.

Hacker power

Of course, picking notable names isn't always smart. While Chuckwalla's staff was at Internet World, its Web site got hacked. Fortunately, the hacker took pity and merely renamed the home page. He even left an e-mail address and an offer to help the owners secure the site.

Meanwhile, out West, Microsoft Corp. was wishing someone had left a little more than an e-mail address after hijacking an unspecified amount of source code from the company's internal network.

'I don't think this is what Steve Ballmer had in mind when he talked about making parts of Windows open-source,' the Rat snickered as he read the accounts of the hack on his BlackBerry e-mail pager.

Holstering the handheld, he caught a whiff of something more bracing than Redmond espresso: the smell of true buzz. It drew him off the floor and away from the convention center to a launch event for Groove Networks Inc., the new start-up by Lotus Notes inventor Ray Ozzie.

'Groove Networks?' the Rat muttered, slithering past security. 'What is this? A cable channel for 'Laugh-In' reruns? A home for MP3s of classic vinyl LPs?'

Following the buzz, he found its source: Groove, a mix of groupware and peer-to-peer technology that sounds like Napsterized Notes'with AOL Instant Messenger thrown in.

Groove creates shared, secured workspaces where team members can collaborate'across firewalls, over dial-up lines or even when disconnected. Data is distributed and synchronized over the Internet and stashed in encrypted Extensible Markup Language data stores. Developers can use XML and the Simple Object Access Protocol to hook in enterprise applications and data.

'Wow, man, groovy,' the wirebiter whispered, eyeing developer documentation and demos. Now, he could do something many of the exhibitors at Internet World couldn't; he could head home to Washington with his expectations happily met.

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@gcn.com.

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