I didn't know Gene Kan lived in Anaheim Hills. Heck, I live
in Anaheim Hills. AH must be the new p2p hotspot. 8-)
Net's next Napster?
February 22, 2001
By ERIC JOHNSON
The Orange County Register
Napster is dead. Long live peer-to-peer.
Out of the underground and into the
mainstream, peer-to-peer technology, or
P2P, has made its way from unknown
techie term to dinner-table discussion
topic. It has Napster to thank for that.
With the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals
decision earlier this month to halt Napster's
music giveaway, P2P is at a crossroads.
The technology could be in your home in
the near future. That is, if anybody figures
out what to use it for or how to make any
money off it.
"The real idea behind peer-to-peer is that
it's a way to allow computers to
intercommunicate," said Gene Kan, a
computer engineer from Anaheim Hills
who is developing a P2P-powered Web
search engine with friends from the
University of California, Berkeley. "From
that arises a lot of interesting effects, like
Napster and instant messaging."
In the same way the Internet indelibly
changed how we use computers, file
sharing could change how we work and
True P2P is when two people have P2P
software and share files over the Web
without the interference of a central server,
which still is needed to provide Internet
An office working on P2P could
collaborate instantly. If one employee is at
lunch with a cell phone and another is at
the airport with only his Palm Pilot, they
could simultaneously edit a power-point
presentation on a third employee's personal
The rise in prominence of P2P can be
greatly attributed to the unbridled
popularity of Napster.
Napster gives anyone with access to the
Internet the ability to download songs for
free. The songs come from other Napster
users in the process called file sharing.
And file sharing is the essence of P2P.
In a technical sense, however, Napster is
not true P2P. Users share each other's files
but only within the framework of Napster's
Two people who download P2P software
could peer into whatever files they give
each other permission to view. One of
them could edit word-processing
documents saved on the other's hard drive
or download a copy of a video game or a
P2P is expected to make Internet searches
more penetrating because files won't be
limited to static information posted on the
Web. Instead, it should allow Web
browsers to poke into files of other
computer users to find more telling information.
But remember: P2P is only as successful as the number of people using
"If you have a telephone and no else does, the network effect is zero,"
said Greg Bolcer, chief technology officer for Irvine P2P software
developer Endeavors Technology. "Every phone you add, the network
effect becomes greater. It works that way with the Internet.
"With P2P, all these different components are equal peers
communicating over the Web, and the network effect goes up
CAN IT MAKE MONEY?
"A lot of people are chasing after peer-to- peer because of the success
of Napster, but it's not clear how business fits in," said Peter Christy, a
research fellow at Jupiter Research. "I don't think people are unwilling
to pay a reasonable amount, but the Internet is a very untrustworthy
environment. That dark space out there is unfriendly."
Since it is a software-based network, the software itself can be passed
along and downloaded easily. In fact, many P2P Web sites offer free
versions of the software solely to propagate the technology.
Executives at Endeavors, which is backed by London
mobile-computing vendor Tadpole Technologies, see opportunities for
business to cash in at key points if everyone is connected. Like
charging a nominal fee for a video game or music file every time it is
"You're using the distribution power of the network without losing
control," Endeavors CEO Brian Morrow said. So instead of one person
paying a huge upfront cost and everyone else getting it for free, the
game's manufacturer encodes the game to automatically charge about
$7 every time the game is downloaded.
KEEPING PIRATES AT BAY
The software that will allow games, music, DVDs and other valuable
digital property to be protected from mass piracy is called Digital
"It would be incorrect to say that the information is unbreachable even
with Digital Rights Management," said Robert Weber, chairman of the
industry advisory board for TrustData, a digital-rights firm in San
Jose. "If someone provides me access to their machine, it's conceivable
that, if I am skilled, I can compromise that data."
Weber estimates that 10 percent of those who download valuable data
pay for it. If that number jumped to anywhere near 100 percent, it
could make P2P a viable business model.
But some caution that too many fees and forms could jeopardize P2P.
"If DRM is the slightest bit complicated, customers will avoid it," said
Malcolm Mac lachlan, e-Media analyst at IDC. "People are so used to
getting stuff for free, you have to put it in an environment that feels
free. There's a lot of stuff on cable that wouldn't sell on pay-per-view."
"If you use (DRM) to fingerprint audio files - something that says,
'That's ours' - that would allow record labels to make money," he said.
"Before Napster, there were hundreds of sites where people put up
MP3s (music files scrunched into a manageable format). Suddenly
peer-to-peer allows these collections to be connected."
So far Endeavors hasn't licensed its technology, which embeds P2P
software in any machine with access to the Internet and in a Windows
Until someone pushes P2P ahead, its future remains uncertain.
P2P could gain immeasurably from having a company such as software
Microsoft, with its limitless customer base, include P2P software in its
Windows package. The world's largest computer-chip maker, Intel, is
already on board. Its latest model, the Pentium 4, was earmarked to
speed up P2P applications.
Kan said P2P will catch on as soon as people get over the notion that
information can only travel in one direction.
"We're going to be able to use the computer like they do in the
movies," Kan said. "They're user-friendly, and they communicate over
time and space."
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