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Opera Adds BitTorrent

The next version of the Opera Web browser will support peer-to-peer (P2P) technology, which has been the focus of a lot of legal discussions recently.

A technical preview of Opera 8.02 released Thursday allows users to download BitTorrent files directly from the browser rather than downloading the file and using a client application like Azureus to download the full file.

It is available on the Windows, Linux and Macintosh operating system platforms.

With the BitTorrent protocol embedded into the Opera application, the browser treats a torrent file just like any other file.

When a user clicks on a torrent file, a pop-up box states: "You are about to start a BitTorrent download. Please note that you will share the content you receive with other people who download the same files. Are you sure you want to do this?"

Once the download is complete, the file remains available for others to share while the browser is open. And every time the browser is opened, the sharing process resumes.

Christen Krogh, Opera vice president of engineering, said the BitTorrent addition to the browser provides the basic P2P functionality; the company will take user feedback for the technical preview before moving forward with any others. The decision to include the protocol, he said, was inevitable.

"Viewing it as a download protocol, in the same way as you can view HTTP and FTP , it seems like a normal extension of the capabilities of a browser," he said.

While there are many legitimate, legal reasons for using the BitTorrent protocol, the illegal uses of P2P technology has been the focus of a highly publicized court ruling recently at the Supreme Court.

Last week it ruled software developers are legally responsible for the illegal acts of their users when they induce customers to download copyrighted material.

Daniel Goldman of OperaWatch, a blog dedicated to news of the browser, said it's probable the company will get a lot of flak from copyright-holder industries, but notes Opera is not promoting the spread of illegal content.

"It's important to remember the BitTorrent protocol is becoming very popular in the legal world as well," he said. "Linux, for example, uses BitTorrent for its distribution; many gaming sites use it as well. There is nothing illegal with BitTorrent. People misuse it just like anything else. But I don't think this will have any negative effect on Opera."

While legal, Opera users in the workplace might find themselves running afoul of administrators and workforce policies that prohibit the use of BitTorrent clients running on the corporate network.

Krogh hopes that's not the case, saying the BitTorrent download option can be turned off in the Preferences section.