Two developments last week showed that peer-to-peer computing is becoming a significant part of the Internets fabric: Napsters pact with three major record companies and Microsofts announcement that the next version of Windows will include a unified client that would allow computers to talk directly to each other.
Napster inked a conditional deal with MusicNet, the joint music distribution venture of RealNetworks, AOL Time Warners Warner Music Group, Bertelsmanns BMG Entertainment and EMI Group. It was a qualified victory for Napster, which plans to launch a paid music service later this summer.
Nevertheless, legally embattled Napster still has tricky problems to overcome before it proves it can become a "legitimate" business. Warner Music and EMI said they would refuse to participate in the licensing deal unless theyre satisfied Napster will distribute their music in a secure way.
For Internet managers, the disclosure last week that Microsoft will incorporate Windows Messenger as a standard part of Windows XP is more significant than the Napster deal.
Windows Messenger is a peer-to-peer (P2P) communications and collaboration application that combines several previously separate programs — instant messaging, audio- and videoconferencing and application sharing — into a single interface. Microsoft said it will let businesses and third-party developers tap into a suite of real-time P2P collaboration and messaging services provided in Windows XP, slated to ship in October.
Microsoft promises Windows Messenger will let users send instant text messages, view the same applications, make PC-to-PC voice calls as well as do videoconferencing — for free. Microsoft executives expect that the company, along with third-party service providers, will charge for enhanced services.
However, Windows Messenger will require users to register with Microsoft Passport, its online identity service, to find other users on the Internet. And critics see the requirement of using the Passport directory as part of Microsofts strategy to extend its control of the PC desktop to new Internet services.