Understanding Computers
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  Sharing More Than Music
In the early 80s, some friends of mine formed a music buying club. They took turns buying albums then all the other club members made tapes of the purchases. My friends took advantage of a new technology in order to share their acquisitions.
In the 90s, folks started to exploit another new technology in order to acquire music for the cost of a blank CD. The practice of "burn and return" became so common that it killed several mail order houses.
In the 2Ks, the new technology, file sharing or, more accurately, Peer to Peer networking (P2P) makes it possible to acquire a considerable library of music without leaving your chair. The controversy swirling around P2P reminds me of parents discussing teen sex. It doesn't really matter what anyone thinks about it. It's enough to know that there are a lot of ways of doing it, it can't be stopped, and getting caught should be the least of anyone's worries. That said there are still many concerns.
One big problem with P2P is the number of peers in the pool, 30 million or so at any given moment. File sharing might feel as comfortable as necking in the living room with your steady on a Saturday night but it's more like playing full contact sports in a New Orleans transvestite bar during Mardi Gras. Many of the other players have hidden agendas.
An astonishing number of files, 45% in one study, downloaded using the most popular P2P application, Kazaa, contained malicious code. That's nerd-speak for viruses, trojans, and spyware. Most "free" P2P applications come bundled with their own spyware that, once it's on your system, is almost impossible to get off. In spite of all that, wading through the cyber sewers to get to the treasure isn't the scariest part of P2P networking.
The scariest part is distributed computing. The potential for abuse or, as its proponents like to call it, profit from distributed computing is almost limitless. The idea is that home users give permission to a software distributor to use a portion of their PC's resources. The software distributor can then sell the combined computing power of millions of PCs to anyone they want. Computers on the P2P network could be used to send spam, host porn sites, or sort through billions of electronic communications for marketing keywords
You might wonder why anyone would agree to participate in such a scheme but tens of millions, most of them kids, already have. The permission is buried, courtesy of Brilliant Digital Entertainment, in the End User Licence Agreement (EULA) of Kazaa, Morpheus, and a host of other file sharing applications. You can read an excellent article about it from CNET at http://news.com.com/2100-1023-873181.html.
How can you practice safe file sharing? Don't even think about it until you have installed an anti-virus program, a firewall and a spyware killer. I use AVG, Zone Alarm, and Ad-aware all of which offer free versions for home use. Be warned that some advertised spyware killers are actually spies disguised as killers. Don't subscribe to downloading services. The software distributor doesn't actually provide any service, they're just P2P applications that expire in a year's time. Choose the right P2P application. My steadies are LimeWire Pro and Shareaza, but I'll dump them in a Bay Street second if they start letting friends in the back door. One final word, you can share a lot more than music. Any nerd will tell you, if you can save it, you can share it.
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