RealTime IT News

Lindows Grabs BitTorrent By The Bit

Figuring they can save money using peer-to-peer technology (P2P), alternative operating system developers Lindows is giving customers 50 percent discounts if they download using BitTorrent.

The San Diego-based company is knocking $24.95 off the price of its $49.95 operating system if they use BitTorrent, a P2P technology created in the wake of Napster. Unlike Napster, the files and file management reside inside the computers of end users in an almost completely de-centralized network architecture.

Also unlike Napster and the more popular consumer P2P technologies like Gnutella, Morpheus and KaZaa, the technology has remained under the legal radar of organizations like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the music industry organization that has taken to filing lawsuits against end users who download music files.

Here's how it works: a BitTorrent client is installed on a person's computer, which manages the download of .torrent files, breaking data into numbered blocks. While a person is downloading, they are also uploading the completed blocks to other BitTorrent users. The more people you have downloading your file, the more you can download from other BitTorrent users yourself.

It's a community-based environment that many consumers have embraced the in the wake of litigation against the more mainstream P2P applications. Servers host BitTorrent "seeds" at their tracker sites, which is the site hosting the original file for download. As more and more people download that seed, the number of available download nodes increases, creating organic growth for faster downloads.

For businesses like Lindows, having other people hosting seeds means they free up their own download sites and more importantly, the bandwidth costs associated with hosting the data files for download. The original seed comes from its own server, in this case, and end users around the world propagate the file.

Officials said using BitTorrent technology opens up the amount of simultaneous downloads; not only do they realize "greatly reduced" bandwidth rates for distributing content, users can simultaneously download from more than 1,000 sources, rather than its current 125.

It also means less time spent waiting in line. Lindows.com officials said users have waited up to four hours in the past to download new files from their FTP site, and download speeds capped at 200 kilobits per second. With BitTorrent technology, they say, there are no restrictions on simultaneous users or bandwidth speed.

The technology isn't perfect, however. While users can download the Lindows seed file from other users, if no one is hosting the .torrent file at the moment, it can't be downloaded by more than one source at the Lindows central server. In that case, it means the downloader will have a much slower download rate.

Lindows.com is pitching the The Shad0w's Experimental BitTorrent Client application on its Web site, but there is nothing preventing users from using other clients.

John Hoffman is the Shad0w behind the BitTorrent Client he offers, and told internetnews.com that while torrents are P2P, individual files can be tracked back to sites hosting illegal copies of the software, making the technology secure from an IP holders point of view. Using a simple application like the TorrentSpy, IP owners can find out exactly where particular torrent files are being hosted.

"BitTorrent was meant to distribute legitimate content; it's been used by pirates, but it isn't an ideal tool for that purpose," he said. "A .torrent file contains a list of files, authentication information for it, and a URL to a tracker server. The tracker gives the peers addresses for other peers, so they can connect together."

P2P use in the business world has been relatively small-scale affairs, as many network administrators are nervous about de-centralizing some of the functions in the network.

Michael Robertson, Lindows CEO, said the cost-savings around content distribution would get many businesses on board in the future.

"Most content companies view P2P as evil, but there are phenomenal commercial applications," he said in a statement.

Hoffman, for his part, isn't upset his free torrent client found its way onto the Lindows Web site. When asked if he was notified before Lindows put his client on the site, he said no, but was glad for the mention -- even though he said he would contact the company over the use of one of his images.

"Good for them," he said. "Maybe they'll hire me later for custom modifications."