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P2P Writer's Block
May 29, 2007
Thomas Mennecke
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There was a time when it seemed there were dozens upon dozens of P2P networks floating about. Scour Exchange, iMesh, Napster, CuteMX, WinMX, FileShare, Gnutella, QtraxMax, eDonkey2000, FastTrack, EarthStation5, and the list goes on. Many of these networks have either died out or succumbed to the pressures of commercialization. Some are still alive, and surprisingly, still producing new versions of their software.

P2P development, for the most part, has suffered from an incredible case of writer's block for the better part of two years. This isn't to say that P2P development has ceased - far from it. However, in terms of diversity, P2P creativity has been virtually non-existent. Instead, most development has concentrated around the de facto representative of file-sharing, BitTorrent. If a new client or version of an existing client crops up, chances are it has something to do with BitTorrent technology.

While BitTorrent is an incredible technology, some are uneasy with this protocol replacing all need for other forms of file-sharing. In the last two years, there hasn't been a viable, widespread, or mainstream P2P network developed that comes close to the ubiquity of BitTorrent. Is this good news or bad?

In many ways, BitTorrent's dominance as the premier file-sharing program is perhaps the very reason that file-sharing still exists. Its dual role as both the people's P2P protocol and a tool the music/movie industry can take advantage of has most likely helped maintain its longevity and fostered innovation. Others have not been so lucky.

Take FastTrack, for example. If a diehard Kazaa fan of 2007 were to be transposed by some file-sharing/time-space vortex to the height of FastTrack's dominance in 2003-2004, the end-user experience would not be exceptionally different. Plagued by a barrage of legal difficulties, declining reputation, and a 100 million dollar judgment, Sharman Networks has been dormant in the P2P innovation field. Yet the client and network still exist and are being used by an untold number of people - a testament to the viability of decentralized P2P. The same can't be said about its brethren Grokster, who was made an example out of by the US entertainment industry.

Moving onto Gnutella, this network once had a multitude of viable clients connecting to this community. The juggernauts of this venture were BearShare and Limewire. Gnucleus was also an important player, as were many other smaller developers. Yet the legal climate in the United States has had a chilling effect on Gnutella development for most programmers. Backed by the wealthy Lime Group umbrella, LimeWire has been the exception and has been able to stave off attacks by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America.)

BearShare's future wasn't as fortunate as LimeWire's. Like many P2P applications, they too were forced to settle for an astronomical pricetag. With BearShare out of the picture, and the lack of a Gnucleus update since June of 2004, LimeWire is the only Gnutella application keeping this network afloat. A truly revolutionary change, however, is eagerly awaited.

eDonkey2000 was once a dual client network - a much larger portion run by the open source project eMule, and the other run by the official eDonkey client developed by MetaMachine. eMule is still developing clients; however, the eDonkey2000 network, like FastTrack, has remained virtually unchanged save for the introduction of the Kademlia overlay several years ago. Regardless, eDonkey2000 remains an important force in the P2P world, and by some estimates is the protocol of choice in some countries.

The Manolito P2P network, accessible via the Blubster and Piolet clients, was at one point surging to file-sharing stardom. Developer Pablo Soto's time was deferred from these projects however, and the population remained stagnant at ~250,000 individuals. Yet interestingly enough, not all is lost. Pablo's work may be considered the exception to the P2P writer's block rule, as he has been feverishly working on his latest project, OMEMO (Ownership Masquerading Explorable Metadata Overlay). If the beta testing proves successful, this virtual hard drive project may be the first innovative network in some time.

Ares Galaxy, created by Alberto Treves, nearly achieved divine status after his decision to release the client's source code in September of 2005. This decision was made instead of capitulating to the RIAA's cease and desist demand. Although updates are still being produced, the Ares Galaxy of today is much like its predecessors. It is unknown whether Alberto will reinvigorate his client in the near future.

The list of P2P clients that have remained virtually unchanged goes on. Is DC++ much different today than it was 5 years ago? Has KCeasy knocked anyone off their feet recently? Where are the great anonymous P2P networks? The only network where one can objectively notice substantial changes over the course of time is BitTorrent. From DHT (Distributed Hash Tables) to uTorrent to browser integration to advances in tracker technology, BitTorrent is a different animal than it was three years ago. Perhaps consolidation has led developers to simply give up on other proposed ideas or projects. Or perhaps because of this, it may stimulate creativity and innovation for the next great leap forward in P2P technology.


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File-Sharing/P2P Related :: Software

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