Beware of All That Connectedness

Tester's Choice: As Morpheus and Kazaa proved, using a technology that relies on several connected technologies from different vendors is not always a good thing.

Everything will be connected to everything. Technologies such as Web services and peer-to-peer are creating a world where a technology you are using may be relying on several connected technologies from different vendors. And the funny thing is, they say this is a good thing.

But Im wondering if these are symbiotic or parasitic associations. Could a core technology or service that Im using go down because of something I didnt know I was using at all? And could this happen for other than technological reasons, such as corporate infighting?

Though not for a core business application, this exact situation was recently faced by around 1 million users of the peer-to-peer file-sharing network Morpheus.

Early in March, users of Morpheus attempting to log in to the network were given a pop-up message that they needed to upgrade their software. But the strange thing was that Music City, the provider of Morpheus, didnt have any new upgrade to its software.

Now this is where the symbiotic/parasitic relationships come in. The Morpheus client was based on the FastTrack peer-to-peer network, and the creators of that network also make a file sharing peer-to-peer program called Kazaa that competes with Morpheus.

According to Kazaa, Music City had failed to pay the bills associated with licensing the FastTrack software, so Kazaa terminated its license. However, in addition to terminating the license, Kazaa was able to propagate changes throughout the network that essentially locked out all those using Morpheus.

Of course, users of Morpheus can move to Kazaa (its even offering a Morpheus migration kit), but theres a reason Morpheus was more popular then Kazaa. Kazaa essentially pays its bills by installing what it would call advertising assistance agents (what everyone else calls spyware) along with the Kazaa client. Most users of Morpheus went to that client because it was free of spyware.

And some of Kazaas actions didnt do much to encourage these users to embrace Kazaa (never mind the spyware). After all, many on newsgroups were surprised to find that what they saw as a third-party company could essentially lock them out of what they saw as an open peer-to-peer network. And they were even more surprised to find that in many cases, Kazaa made changes to their systems when they tried to log in through Morpheus (a small and admittedly innocuous change to the Windows registry).

In many ways this move could be self-destructive for Kazaa. After all, the power of a peer-to-peer network lies in how many people use it, and the company just whacked a big percentage of its users. Also, its currently in a Napster-like court case where one of its main defenses is that, unlike the server-based Napster, there is no way to shut down a peer-to-peer network. Well Kazaa just proved it can do just that.

But to me, the biggest concern here is where this might happen again. Could a similar tiff blow out a much-used travel site, or maybe a Web service I rely on--or even worse, make a piece of software that my company uses suddenly obsolete?

Interconnectedness can be beneficial, but its also a good idea to find out just where everything is connecting before you build something important on something thats connected everywhere.

East Coast Technical Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at [email protected]