If you have a teen-aged or college kid in your household, you probably already know about Napster, software that allows people to share MP3 files around the Internet. And if you have a dial-up connection to the Internet, Napster is probably the best motivation to get your household connected to a higher-speed service, such as a cable modem or DSL line. The average MP3 file is 4 or 5 megabytes in size, which can take a long time over a modem and many network hops to download.
The notion behind Napster is simple. One of the biggest issues with getting copies of MP3s was playing the cat and mouse game of trying to find an open FTP server. Napster catalogs all your existing MP3s and puts a big search engine on top of it. When you want to find some song, you search through this distributed database and when you find it, download directly from someone's hard disk over the Internet. It is so simple that even a child can use it, and many do.
But just like the push products of several years ago, Napster will ultimately be a pox on the broadband networks. Already, many college campuses have blocked access for their students, claiming it fills up their Internet connection faster than you can hum the latest hit single from Eiffel 85. (That's a pop group, for those of you without teenagers.) And of course the music oligopoly is aghast at having yet another fusillade to deal with, since these copies of songs are of course, distributed royalty-free.
I am not here to argue for or against the use of Napster, but I will say that since getting on board the MP3 revolution I have purchased more music in the last seven months than in the past two decades, and maybe my entire life (precise purchasing records from my teenage and college years are unfortunately impossible to come by at this moment). I am not alone in this perspective, and know of other MP3 addicts who are now frequent visitors to various CD music eCommerce sites. (Heaven forbid we should actually walk into a physical record store!) This gives some credibility to the theory that use of MP3s will encourage, rather than subvert, potential future music sales. But we'll leave that argument for another time.
What is more interesting to me, as a network kind of guy, is how the cable companies and other broadband providers will react to Napster in terms of their network management. They have several strategies:
The online site is called Searchwin2000.com and contains lots of useful information about Windows software, tools, and techniques. I'll be writing a semi-monthly column called David Strom's Win2000 Tool Shed, doing reviews of various Windows utilities. If you have suggestions for your favorites, drop me a line.
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