CeePrompt! Computer Connection

Originally published July 08, 2002

Kaaza & music download

On a recent road trip, I was scanning the FM dial and happened on a great oldies station that brought back fond memories.  Not those of cruising Pacific Avenue, or hobnobbing at the A & W drive-in, but rather of the days when you could freely download that favorite oldie from Napster. 

Following an expensive legal battle, Napster remains in forced retirement, hoping to reorganize and reincarnate as a subscription-based music-sharing program.  It was the first user friendly peer-to-peer sharing program that allowed millions of users throughout the world to share everything from Bach concertos to Seinfeld sound bites.

I've resisted installing other P2P products such as Bearshare, Audiogalaxy or Morpheus due to security concerns, but local music aficionados convinced me to try KaZaA, the heir-apparent to Napster. KaZaA originated in the Netherlands and was the brainchild of Niklas Zennstrom who developed the FastTrack software that enables users to share audio, graphic, video and data files. 

Unlike Napster, however, KaZaA has no central network. It's more akin to a Gnutella network where each user's computer becomes a virtual server and those connected at any given time create one giant network. Once installed, KaZaA was immediately familiar to me with its browser-style interface so reminiscent of Napster. The search utility is more robust than Napster's allowing improved filter and query options.  I quickly found audio titles from Toni Braxton and Leslie Gore as well as a copy of the Declaration of Independence in Word format.

A glaring downside of KaZaA is the inclusion of Cydoor, an advertising program that creates banners and pop up ads while connected to the KaZaA network.  When you agree to the licensing terms outlined by KaZaA, you implicitly agree to take on this spyware product as well. If you disable Cydoor, you'll lose the functionality of KaZaA.   

Disgruntled KaZaA users have made available a hacked version of the software called KaZaA Lite that does not require users to install third-party software, such as Cydoor. Most users I spoke with, however, don't object to the online advertising and feel it's a small price to pay for having such streamlined file sharing capabilities.

Be aware that if you have a modern computer and a high-speed Internet connection, KaZaA may assign your machine as a "supernode" on the network without your knowledge or permission. This means others in your geographic area actually use your fast machine for expedited searches. You can disable this feature under the Tools | Options | Advanced menu.  It's also a good idea to disable the "Launch KaZaA automatically" feature under Tools | Options | User so KaZaA doesn't run each time you start your computer. Open KaZaA and then insure it's closed in the system tray after each download session, thereby limiting the time that others have access to your shared folders.

Just because KaZaA has no central network does not make it immune to legal challenge. As expected KaZaA has been the target of lawsuits by the Recording Industry Association of America and for a time voluntarily suspended downloads of its sharing software earlier this year. In April, an appellate Dutch court ruled in KaZaA's favor finding that the company could not be held liable for the actions of individuals who use the sharing software.

Although an apparent victory, a financial toll was taken and Zennstrom sold KaZaA to Sharman Networks of Australia. Like Napster, KaZaA is wildly popular boasting 97 million total downloads and a current rate of about 2 million per week. The company has reportedly incorporated in Vanuatu, an island in the South Pacific, where it's sheltered from foreign court rulings. It's going prove more difficult this time for the music industry to prevent the distribution of KaZaA software or shut down the millions of users worldwide who lack any central authority.

Cathi Schuler owns a computer literacy training/consulting company, Cee Prompt! She is a co-author of computer textbooks and can be reached by e-mail at cschuler@uop.edu or cschuler@ceeprompt.com or by mail c/o The Record, P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201. She is on the Internet at: http://www.ceeprompt.com. Click here for past archived columns.  


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