ISP-In-A-Box: The Final Chapter (P2P from A to Z)

In the beginning, there was Napster. And then there wasn’t. Then, from our friends at AOL, sprang Gnutella. And Gnutella begot Limewire. Now you can download BitTorrent for free from Apple, and Napster’s once again offering unlimited song downloads … as long as your $15 check clears each month for as long as you both shall live. What’s wrong with this picture? Well, that’s for the Supreme Court to know, and you to find out. In the meantime, while the Supreme Court is deciding the future of peer-to-peer (P2P) networks in the United States, it seemed like a good time to once again propose a fresh approach to the music sharing problem and to briefly review some of the P2P software options which are available at least today on the Mac platform.

It’s the M-Chip, Stupid! We won’t wade into the legal thicket of how you should use P2P tools other than to note, as we have in the past, that Congress has really dropped the copyright ball by refusing to consider creative solutions to the music and movie downloading problems and instead opting to rubber-stamp legislation reportedly drafted by the folks they should be regulating. It would be so easy to add $100 to the price of every music or video player and make all of this litigation go away. Before you say $100 is too cheap, just consider how many music and video players you have in your home and cars and how long they typically last before you buy new ones. The tally for our family is close to 20 devices, but don’t tell your burglar friends! Think of my proposal as a reverse V-Chip for music. Let’s call it the M-Chip. Instead of locking you out of content as the V-Chip does, the M-Chip would let you in. Pay your $100 and the M-Chip would enable your music player to play any music (encrypted or not) that you can get your hands on … legally! M-Chip proceeds would go to the record companies and musicians. And, down the road when every music player had an M-Chip, why would we need encryption any longer other than to make the music moguls sleep better? The only drawback I see to this approach is the poor lawyers. What would all of them do if the ‘music problem’ just went away?

If you want to read more, here’s a link to our previous discussion of this topic. And the Electronic Frontier Foundation has a great site that explains everything which is at stake in the pending Supreme Court case. We’ll assume that the Supreme Court will do the right thing and allow P2P networking technology to coexist with the recording industry and the movie studios. But who knows? Perhaps the next big public works project can be building enough jails to house the million plus Limewire users who are on line most of every day and night. Or, we could borrow a page from the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Orrin Hatch. He believes we should blow up the computers of people who download music illegally. Isn’t it nice to finally see one of our elected representatives thinking creatively? We’d like to believe he was just frustrated by the difficulty of the copyright problem. Otherwise, just think what he might do to you for stealing something that costs more than 99¢. Death row, here we come. Three songs, and you’re out … for good.

The real problem with all the legal mess, and it is most assuredly a mess which is only getting worse, is the adverse effect it is having on an entire generation of Americans who see nothing really wrong with committing felonies before breakfast each morning… assuming they’re up at that time of the day. And, of course, there’s the chilling effect it is having on enhancement and use of an incredibly versatile and creative technology: P2P networking. Killing off technology pioneers to deter music pirates is not unlike biting off one’s nose to spite your face. In short, it’s a great way to irreparably damage the innovative spirit which has made the United States a creative force since the days of Thomas Edison. Write your representatives in Congress and urge them to look at this issue responsibly … as if their children’s futures and respect for the American legal system were at stake. They are. End of sermon.

If P2P networking is your thing, then there is no finer platform for it than the Mac. Why? That’s an easy one. The P2P tools that have been written for the Mac platform don’t include the Spyware and Trojan Horse features which you’ll find in almost all of the offerings for the Windows platform. Just try to delete a P2P application from a Windows machine, and you’ll understand what we’re talking about. The real beauty of P2P technology is that it provides an IP solution for sharing files amongst various types of computers worldwide, something we’ve all become accustomed to using local area networks. In addition to many other companies, IBM has devoted enormous resources to exploration of P2P technology for business use.

Two very different P2P technologies provide excellent results on the Mac platform. The traditional P2P solution is Limewire which includes free (with ads) and Pro versions. A better Limewire solution and the reason some folks have actually switched to the Mac platform is a product called Acquisition. It has perhaps the best user interface ever written for Mac OS X, and at $16.99 for a single-user license, it won’t break the bank either. Installation is a breeze. Download the software from here and drag the Acquisition icon to your Applications folder. Run the Application and choose Preferences to set your default download and upload folders, to turn on iTunes integration, and to specify the number of simultaneous connections you wish to support. Now enter a search term and presto! And, yes, keep in mind that downloading or uploading copyrighted material is against the law … at least in the USA. But, if all you want to do is download music, perhaps it’s time you planned a vacation to Canada with your Mac mini or Powerbook, but you’d better hurry if current news articles are to be believed.

The other great P2P solution for the Mac platform is BitTorrent which is available for free download from Apple’s web site. Go figure. Once you download the software, just drag the application to your Applications folder and start it up. Now use Google to search for BitTorrent content. HINT: The files always end with an extension of .torrent. The same copyright warnings (as above) apply, and Big Brother is probably a BitTorrent user himself. Everything you ever wanted to know about BitTorrent is available in their FAQ or Brian’s FAQ and Guide.

Finally, while we’re on the subject of music downloads, there’s been lots of buzz recently about a Russian web site (allofmp3.com) which offers music downloads for about a penny a minute, slightly cheaper than iTunes. But, is it legal? With our usual disclaimer that we’re not in the business of providing legal advice here, we can point you to some sites that discuss the issue. FadMine seems to think it’s OK. Moscow prosecutors also gave allofmp3.com the green light, at least inside Russia. And then there’s at least one California lawyer that thinks it’s not. But see this piece in the Tech Law Advisor. In the Americanized words of a famous old British insurance handbook from 1846: “You pays your money and you takes your chances.” If you haven’t guessed it already, copyright law is a goldmine for lawyers and law professors at the moment because virtually nothing is settled. Another 5-4 decision from the Supreme Court should make things much clearer. Didn’t know you were gonna have to go to law school just to use your computer, did you?

Tiger Preparations. Over at our new Tiger web site, Tiger Vittles, we’re getting ready for the big day, Friday, April 29, when Apple officially releases the next version of Mac OS X. Beginning next week, we’ll walk you through the steps you should take before upgrading an existing Mac to a new operating system. For those coming from the Windows world, don’t have a heart attack. The Mac experience is downright pleasant compared to the Microsoft torture chamber you’re accustomed to. Your homework in preparation for the upgrade is to scrape together $100 and buy a firewire drive big enough to back up your entire Mac. We’ve covered all of this before including recommendations on the best firewire drives for your money. So just click here and follow the steps.

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