Well thought out comments below. Some of the Napster alternatives are
good, but like a lot of open source stuff I've seen, many are not
straightforward and tend to be more clunky and less user friendly...and
also tend to have half as many users on their system as Napster has.
Anyways, read on...
Still Plenty of Music Out There
by Leander Kahney
Feb. 13, 2001
Every time it looks like Napster is in trouble, 50 million people start
looking for an alternative.
Naturally, Napster's massive community of MP3 traders want to find ways to
keep the music flowing.
There are dozens of peer-to-peer alternatives to Napster for finding,
downloading or trading music, but no clear "winner." They all seem to suffer
from one shortcoming or another.
Here's a quick overview:
OpenNap: For many people, OpenNap is the clear alternative to Napster.
OpenNap is an open source version of Napster that looks and works just like
Napster. It was written by a group of open-source programmers who
reverse-engineered the Napster protocol.
Like Napster, it is "phenomenally good" for trading MP3 files, traders say.
There are twice as many OpenNap servers as Napster servers -- about 200
OpenNap servers versus 100 Napster servers -- but half as many users, between
200,000 and 600,000 at any one time, according to Clip2, which tracks open
Like Napster, OpenNap relies on servers that allow users to find, index and
search for MP3 files on each other's hard drives.
OpenNap servers run on enterprise-level systems, and are maintained by
individuals or companies like Dimension Music and Music City.
Music City has the most OpenNap servers -- about two dozen, according to
Napigator, a service that tracks the number of up-and-running OpenNap and
And that's its weakness -- the servers can't be run by ordinary users on
their PCs and could presumably be easily shut down by the courts.
AudioGalaxy Satellite: AudioGalaxy Satellite was described by Britain's
influential NTK newsletter as "the future of MP3 distribution."
Like Napster, it's an easy-to-use music swapping-system with a major
advantage: The system can remember what songs have been offered in the past.
If a song isn't immediately available, it can be queued for download when it
does show up.
The system is Web-based. Downloads can be initiated from any Web browser to
the user's home machine.
Songs are listed by popularity, which helps weed out bad or incomplete
versions, and can be automatically resumed if they are cut off.
Trouble is, AudioGalaxy is even more centralized than Napster. NTK predicts
that as soon as Napster is out of the way, AudioGalaxy will be next.
"It's no more protected from the legal ramifications than Napster," said Clay
Shirky, an executive with the Accelerator Group, a Los Angeles consultancy,
and a frequent writer about Napster and peer-to-peer technology.
Gnutella: Gnutella appeared to be the great white hope for shipwrecked
Napster users, but reports last year scared people off with news that the
distributed network would be crippled by hordes of new users: It just didn't
Well, a second generation of Gnutella clones are going a long way toward
solving the scalability woes, experts say.
Gnutella is a completely decentralized peer-to-peer network, made up from
Gnutella nodes, or hosts, running on ordinary PCs.
It's an attractive alternative to Napster because there are no central
servers for the courts to switch off. To prevent music trading, the entire
global Gnutella network would have to be shut down, which no court could
But the first generation of Gnutella clones, which debuted 10 months ago,
weren't easy to use and were often flaky. The prospect of Gnutella becoming
an unstoppable Napster alternative looked dim.
But a new generation of polished clones like BearShare and LimeWire, which
have appeared in the last month, make the prospect much brighter.
The new clones are a lot easier to use, are a lot more stable, make efficient
use of the available bandwidth and include powerful search engines. Most
importantly, they are much better at handling behind-the-scenes network
"The new Gnutella software is addressing the issues admirably," said Gene
Kan, a Gnutella veteran and author of one of the earliest Gnutella clones.
Kan said the first generation of Gnutella software was designed for only a
few hundred users. Developers didn't anticipate the problems of big networks
of users with very different connection rates.
For example, if someone with a 56 kbps modem tried to connect with someone on
a T1 line, they would be swamped with data and the connection would be
terminated. As a result, the whole network tended to be in a constant state
of unstable flux.
The new clones are much better at finding connections that are appropriate,
making the network much more stable and consequently increasing the number of
people a user can connect to.
"It's improving in leaps and bounds," said Vincent Falco, developer of
BearShare. "We've had 40 years to develop good client server technology. You
can't expect P2P to come up to the same level overnight, that's not
The other big problem faced by Gnutella is attracting a critical mass of
users to make the network useful. Napster is popular because so much music is
available. Gnutella has only a few thousand users, a fraction of Napster's.
Ian Clarke's Freenet, which has a different focus, faces the same problem, as
do the dozens of upstart peer-to-peer networks, including File Rogue, iMesh,
Mojo Nation and SongSpy.
"If it's just me and you, it's not very interesting," said Kelly Truelove,
CEO of Clip2, a California company that tracks peer-to-peer networks.
However, Gnutella usage is growing rapidly, thanks mainly to the new clones,
but also concern about Napster's future.
The number of nodes has doubled since January to between 1,500 and 2,000
visible hosts, and continues to grow at about 7 percent a day, according to
Falco said he is seeing between 20,000 to 30,000 downloads a day of the
"Technically, Gnutella is the way of the future because it's applying Occam's
Razor to the problem," said Kan, referring to the principal that the simplest
solution is always the best. "It allows people to swap files with each other
without going through a broker. Gnutella shows it's not really necessary.
It's an operating expense and a central point of failure or control."
Despite the improvements, experts like Clay Shirky remain skeptical that the
Gnutella network will go mainstream.
"They've sacrificed usability and efficiency in the interest of total
decentralization," he said.
Aimster: Aimster is a console launched last year that allowed AOL users to
swap files with other AOL users on their buddy lists.
But a new version of the software, released last month, allows the console to
piggyback on other file transfer services, including AOL, ICQ, Napster,
OpenNap, or Gnutella, among others. All that's needed is a plug-in for the
appropriate network, the company said.
"Consumers are looking to exercise choice in the marketplace and that's what
Aimster is all about," said Johnny Deep, Aimster's CEO and co-founder.
Deep said he saw a huge spike in the number of downloads of the Aimster
software on Monday -- about 25,000 downloads, which is 10 times the normal
Deep said Aimster is not an alternative to Napster, it's a supplement. It's
not a file transfer system per se, but a console that facilitates transfers
across a number of networks.
As such, the system is invulnerable to the courts. It simply sells a database
product like Oracle or Filemaker, Deep said.
Shirky said Aimster may also operate within the scope of the Audio Home
Recording Act: sharing a copy of a song among friends and family may be "fair
use" under the act.
"There's an argument that it's not an infringing use of the technology,"
Groove: Ray Ozzie's Groove could also be used to share MP3 files, but it's
unlikely the peer-to-peer system will ever be used as an alternative to
The system is designed for small workgroups that want to share files, chat
and interact with other members.
"It's about small groups, not large ones, and files are actively pushed to
others in the group, not passively made available for anyone who wants them,"
said Andrew Mahon, Groove's director of strategic marketing.
Scour: Scour will be relaunched this spring as a subscription service, but
there's no indication of what, if anything, will be made available.
For a short while Scour was a popular file-swapping service that allowed the
free trade of music and movies.
But last year the RIAA and MPIA put a stop to that with a $250 million
The bankrupted company was bought by CenterSpan of Hillsborough, Oregon,
which promises to relaunch a subscription service at the end of March that
will offer digitally protected movies and music.
But what exactly will be available, the company won't say.
"We're talking to the major labels and movie studios about injecting their
content," was all Keith Halasy, CenterSpan's corporate marketing director,
Hotline and Carracho: Hotline is the granddaddy of the current crop of
peer-to-peer file-sharing systems. But the system, which was initially
Macintosh only, has languished among bitter court battles between its
inventor Adam Hinkley and the parent company.
The system is a quagmire of porno banner ads and restrictive, semi-private
"Hotline is over," said Shirky simply.
Carracho, meanwhile, a Mac-only file sharing system, is on a slow growth
Developed by brothers Jorn and Mirko Hartmann, from Frankfurt, the system
recently enjoyed a growth spurt, but that was more to do with a new version
of the software than anything to do with Napster, said Mirko.
The system now has about 300,000 clients and 60,000 servers.
Wired - Still Plenty of Music Out There</A>
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