* Company Profile: NetVoyage

NetVoyage’s product NetEnvelope uses the analogy of a physical envelope for sending documents securely over the Internet.

By Erik J. Heels

First published 4/6/1998; LegalResearcher.com; publisher: New York Law Publishing Company

The hardest thing for manufacturers of computer-related products is describing the nature of what exactly their product does. Imagine how difficult it must have been to explain the concept of fax-modems at first. Technology software products are, by their nature, intangible. And many times what people are looking for is products they can touch, try, and understand.

So last month, when I visited Chicago for the ABA’s annual TechShow convention, I was surprised to see so many vendors explaining their products in terms of their features, not in terms of their benefits. Telling me that a product is “ISO 9000 compliant” doesn’t tell me what that product does.

Fortunately, some companies are better than others at putting things in terms that consumers can understand. Take NetVoyage (http://www.netvoyage.com/), for example. NetVoyage has a software product called NetEnvelope. Can you guess what NetEnvelope does? I understand what an envelope does. When I put documents in an envelope, they generally remain sealed until they arrive at their destination when they are opened by the addressee. If I want to be really sure, I can sent my envelope via USPS certified mail or via FedEx.

NetVoyage’s product NetEnvelope uses the analogy of a physical envelope for sending documents securely over the Internet. Anything that you can store as a file (a document, presentation, database, or even a Web page) can be put in (via drag-and-drop or otherwise) the envelope and shared with others. All you have to do is decide what level of security you want to set for each recipient. For example, you might want some recipients to only be able to see the contents of the envelope. For others, you might want to let them make changes. And, when people do make changes, the envelopes “synchronize” with each other, and the postmark (where you’d expect it, in the upper-right corner of the NetEnvelope) indicates the date that the contents were last synchronized. Try that with the post office!

The beauty of NetEvelope is that it accomplishes a task (encryption, security, document sharing and synchronization) by employing a model that we can understand. Compare this to other security options such as PGP, where we have to use unfamiliar concepts like public keys and private keys. I’m sorry, the only time I ever have to use two keys for anything is when I go to the safe deposit box, which is rarely. Now if I were locking my safe deposit box and sending it, that would be a model that I understand. Suffice it to say, I think the average consumer will understand the envelope metaphor better than the public/private key metaphor.

About the only downside that I can see to the product is that it only runs on Windows machines.

What the folks from NetVoyage call their product is a “smart electronic envelope.” Let’s dig a little deeper to see what this all means. NetEnvelopes can be sent as e-mail attachments, or they can be stored on your Web site, in which case you’d mail your clients (or whomever) the URL of where to download the NetEnvelope. If they don’t have the client software, they can download free working copies – to begin communicating and collaborating immediately – from NetVoyage’s Web site (http://www.netvoyage.com/).

Underneath, there are three pieces of software involves. First, there is the NetEnvelope Client. This is the free piece that you can download from NetVoyage’s Web site. It enables you to view, edit, and save documents in a “smart electronic envelope.” All of your users will need a copy of the NetEnvelope Client software. This is the same model that Adobe uses to distributes is Acrobat Reader software or that Netscape and Microsoft use to distribute they Navigator and Internet Explorer Web browsers.

Second, there is the NetEnvelope Courier, which comes free with the NetEnvelope Client. You’ll need to have this software running in the background (by putting a shortcut to it in your Windows StartUp menu) in order to deliver and notify users of any changes you’ve made to your NetEnvelope envelopes. (Perhaps the terminology is a little confusing after all!)

Third is the NetEnvelope Synchronization Server software, which requires the Microsoft NT operating system. This enhances the basic features of NetEnvelope by allowing envelopes to be shared and automatically synchronized across the Internet. And if you are running Microsoft’s Internet Information Server, your users can access their envelops from the Web using NetEnvelope WebView.” You can initially take advantage of these features by using NetVoyage’s own NetEnvelope Synchronization Server, which suggests they might offer this as a service in addition to selling the software.

Oh yeah, it uses 40-bit encryption, for those of you scoring at home. But the benefit is simplicity and a model we can understand.

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