[FoRK] Avalanche vs. BitTorrent

Stephen D. Williams sdw
Thu Jun 30 18:51:11 PDT 2005


I was invited a couple years ago to evaluate an idea for a startup to 
provide hosted broadcasting service for small-time broadcasters. I 
analyzed the need, market, bandwidth issues, multicast availability 
(UUnet only if purchased directly), and economics of their intended 
model. I raised the issue that bandwidth costs would be hard to cover 
and that what was really needed were generic repeaters at the edge, 
something like Akamai but more generalized and not expensive centralized 
capital investment. My favorite idea was that an open source server 
should be developed and ISPs persuaded that it was in their best 
interest to provide as a service. I knew however that ISPs were loathe 
to provide anything that resolved bandwidth problems directly, even if 
that meant better upstream bandwidth. I offhandedly commented that it 
would be useful for end-users to repeat to other nearby people, but 
suspected that users wouldn't want to do that and that there wouldn't be 
enough people who weren't behind NAT or firewalls to provide routing.

Right on key issues, I failed to have faith in the right things. 
BitTorrent, Skype, and others have me convinced that p2p technology is 
the way to go first, not last.

The second article below is a mailing from Michael Robertson (Linspire, 
michaelrobertson.com ). He's right that it would be great to have an 
open Skype and that it is useful to support SIP hardware, networks, etc. 
He is wrong about knocking Skype on technical grounds and it is glaring 
that his suggested solution is not open source and therefor not really 
open in the most useful way. Gizmo is useful competition, but an open 
source solution with an available service for in/out calling and other 
services would be much better. http://www.gizmoproject.com/


The Scheme to Discredit BitTorrent

By John C. Dvorak

One of the most fascinating and popular protocols and P2P 
file-distribution systems on the Internet is BitTorrent, first released 
in 2001. Continuous improvements led to its emergence as a force in 
2003; by early 2005 it was perhaps the dominant protocol on the Net, 
second only to TCP/IP itself. The problem is that no big company 
controls it, and Microsoft, asleep at the wheel, let it slip too long to 
do much about it. So now I suspect Microsoft is playing dirty to 
discredit the thing. There is no other explanation for the recent series 
of coincidental stories and events.

BitTorrent is the brainchild of algorithm and logic junkie Bram Cohen, a 
certifiable genius who saw that radical thinking was needed if P2P was 
ever going to work well in mass-market environments.

Swarms. What Bram managed to figure out was a way to maximize throughput 
on P2P file distribution that went beyond server-centric methods, 
multicasting, edge buffering and all the other schemes that have come 
and gone. Moreover, this idea ends up not costing the person 
distributing the file a lot of bandwidth, because the file itself goes 
into the Net, becomes what is called a swarm, then uploads and downloads 
itself all over the place in bits and pieces from machine to machine. 
When you begin to download a file using BitTorrent, your machine 
immediately starts uploading the exact same file to someone else. This 
process is kind of like the fission demonstration with the mousetraps 
and the ping-pong balls, since your download becomes enhanced by others 
and you get multiple download streams. Meanwhile, you are still 
delivering bits from your file. Data is flying every which way and 
higher demand makes it work better!

Microsoft Takes Aim at BitTorrent. The process for doing this is 
nontrivial, although Cohen claims it's not that complicated. That said, 
he also tells me that nobody else seems to get it right, in particular 
Microsoft with its Avalanche project, which he calls vaporware and 
wrong. "They just do not get it," says Cohen. "They have no clue about 
how the protocol works. I don't know if they can't read the source or 
have not really looked at the code or documentation, but they do not 
understand it." To emphasize this issue he just posted a rebuttal to the 
Microsoft Avalanche research document in his blog this morning. You can 
read it here.

Meanwhile, we are hearing about Avalanche as though it is in beta. 
Articles begin to emerge about the product just as some dubious articles 
appear all over the Net about how BitTorrent has something to do with 
spyware. Interesting coincidences indeed.

Simple Lies, Told as Fact. There is no spyware in BitTorrent. There is 
no way BitTorrent is being tricked into delivering spyware. We hear that 
BitTorrent files are "infected." What specific to BitTorrent is 
infected? Is it the BitTorrent initiation files? Or is it the payload? 
If it's the payload (the media file, for example) then what's it got to 
to do with BitTorrent per se? Nothing, that's what.

Here's what happened.

Someone took an executable file, which in one instance is distributed as 
a Family Guy episode. Instead of just being an .avi or .mpg file, it's 
an .exe or some other executable. Executing the file results in a load 
of spyware being installed. So again I ask what's this got to do with 
BitTorrent per se? If BitTorrent didn't exist this file could still be 
traded in any number of ways. Nothing would change. BitTorrent in this 
instance is merely the download mechanism. You'd STILL get the spyware 
if you used something other than BitTorrent. Spotlighting BitTorrent is 
a cowardly way to discredit the product.

The Root of the Accusations. This was all begun by a Microsoft MVP 
character named Chris Boyd, who is always described as a "renowned" 
security expert. By whose standards is he renowned? Has he written 
books? Academic papers? Articles? What exactly besides blogging? So 
where does this assertion come from? The blog?

He posted his BitTorrent discovery on his security blog here. He 
discovered that the Aurora spyware is on machines that also have 
BitTorrent installed and implies that BitTorrent has more to do with it 
than a casual coincidence. Does this guy know that BitTorrent is a 
downloading system and people who do a lot of downloading tend to have 
it on their machines? The cause and effect logic here eludes me. Is he 
saying it's impossible to get Aurora without BitTorrent?

Whatever the case, someone managed to get his discovery of spyware 
(spyware is news?) into CNet News, eWeek, and IDG News service, as well 
as hundreds of blogs talking about how BitTorrent was an "adware 
distribution vehicle." Hey, BitTorrent will distribute whatever you 
choose to distribute. How is this news? This all happened just as the 
once skeptical, now wishy-washy Register (which also reported on the 
BitTorrent issue without questioning it) reported on Avalanche being 
oh-so-superior to BitTorrent.

For a good laugh view the Avalanche PowerPoint slide show. It shows all 
sorts of graphs as if Avalanche is actually in the wild being used. I 
have never seen such a crock in my life. Can you say "dry lab?"

Where Is the News Reporting? What bothered me the most about this 
episode was that there was no reporting whatsoever regarding the 
BitTorrent as spyware claims or even the credibility of the renowned MVP 
Chris Boyd. It was basically parroting a leap-of-faith accusation in a 
blog that somehow developed into these eventual talking points: Use 
BitTorrent and you'll get spyware. BitTorrent sucks, and oh, Microsoft 
has something better, although it's never been shipped?but it's better!

Does this sort of media irresponsibility and laziness ever end? Or why 
don't we just shoot everyone doing good work, lie about the facts, and 
turn everything over to Microsoft and its Redmond compound? The only 
defenders of BitTorrent I saw regarding this issue were buried here and 
there on Slashdot. They sure were not in the newsrooms?or the blogs for 
that matter. All the stories I saw were disgraceful.

Discuss this article in the forums.



Skype Bad, Gizmo Good
June 29th, 2005

Net calling software Skype has exploded onto the scene. Its ease of use 
and robustness have quickly built an enormous user base and introduced 
many to the power of net calling. But Internet users should be wary of 
Skype because its strategy is a throwback to the '80s built on 
proprietary standards that locks out all others. This week, a product 
called Gizmo is being unveiled - the first viable Skype alternative 
built on open source that pledges to connect to all.

Learn more about the Gizmo Project

At a recent conference, a Skype founder suggested "regulating the 
incumbents" to force others to carry Skype calls. Skype calls go over 
the public Internet, but are often carried on telephone company wiring 
(DSL) which Skype is worried could be configured to block their calls. 
They are proposing that the government should step in and demand that 
those telephone company networks carry Skype calls.

Meanwhile, Skype is refusing to carry anyone else's calls on their own 
phone system. They are engaging in exact behavior - they are worried 
about others trying. Skype can't have it both ways. If Skype wants to 
lock others out of their system, shouldn't the telephone companies have 
the same right also?

To understand how Skype currently works and why it's dangerous for the 
future of net calling, you have to think back to the days of online 
services such as Prodigy, AOL and Compuserve. Each was a closed system 
with no ability to email across services - AOL users could only email 
AOL users, Prodigy users could only email Prodigy users and so on. It 
was a confusing mess since people were required to have many different 
accounts on different services just to be able to communicate with 
others. Fortunately, the world grew and coalesced around open standards 
and those email systems agreed to interconnect. This made it possible 
for example for an AOL user to email an Earthlink user or any other 
email account on the Internet. Today you just need one email address to 
email anyone in the world, which is great.

Skype's calls go over the same net that we all connect to, but they are 
locked away from the rest of the world. They are recreating the old 
closed world rather than embracing the new Internet where all users are 
interconnected. It may be good for Skype's business to lock out other 
number directories because it gives them complete control, but it's 
terrible for consumers because they will be forced into a monopoly.

The world needs open solutions where all systems are connected and are 
built around standards. This lets consumers choose from multiple 
software and devices from many manufacturers. It ensures that they will 
always be treated fairly and the market won't be controlled by just one 
company. SIP is that standard, but until today there hasn't been any 
SIP-based software that could compare with Skype.

About 6 months ago, SIPphone decided to build a standards-based net 
calling program that would push the industry in the right direction. 
Today, we're announcing beta versions of Gizmo available for Mac and 
Microsoft Windows (and soon Linux). Gizmo matches Skype's features plus 
add some neat ones, but more importantly it's based on standards so it 
gives consumers choice and prevents one company lock-in like we have 
suffered through with Microsoft.

Gizmo works with the open standard SIP AND we are committed to 
interconnecting with others. Gizmo users can already make free calls 
directly to thousands of business, university and other organizational 
phone numbers around the world as well as to other net calling 
communities with absolutely no charge. (If you'd like to connect your 
business, university or network to Gizmo please go here.)

Skype v. Gizmo - The Comparison

Gizmo Project
Works with all networks
Gizmo is the first SIP-based software program which works behind complex 
networking setups like Skype does.
Phone adapters/routers
Gizmo uses the SIP standard so it can be used with any SIP-compliant 
router or phone adapter. See www.siphardware.com for more info.
WiFi phones
Any WiFi SIP phone can send/receive calls from Gizmo.
Open directory
The Gizmo directory is open to connect to everyone and currently 
connects to hundreds of universities, companies and network directories. 
Gizmo also connects to Asterisk systems via DUNDI.
Cool name
"Gizmo" started off as internal project name and we know it's lame. 
We're looking for a better name! Send your suggestion to 
name-idea at sipphone.com
Call record
Record any call or conference call with a click of a button.
Free voice mail
Receive voice mail messages via email as audio attachments.
Map call location
Graphical map can show location of caller.
Voice recognition
Developers can write voice applications based on VXML standard. For 
example, dial "info" and a voice-driven application takes over.

I recently tested Gizmo while flying to Europe on a plane that had WiFi 
capability. Passengers around me were stunned that the calls were 
possible. Several downloaded Gizmo and began using the beta from the 
airplane and marveled at the audio quality. If you use OS X or XP, you 
can download Gizmo today and the Linux version is coming soon!

-- Michael


swilliams at hpti.com http://www.hpti.com Per: sdw at lig.net http://sdw.st
Stephen D. Williams 703-724-0118W 703-995-0407Fax 20147-4622 AIM: sdw

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