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Music City Morpheus - Napster for Video?

PERSONAL TECHNOLOGY
BY JOHN FREEMAN JR.


If Music City Morpheus has a claim to fame, other than the fact that for the time being its servers are up and running and relatively reliable, its the sheer quantity of material available here. The speed with which use of this program has spread makes it very likely that you'll be hearing a lot more about Music City in the months to come.

The Claim to Fame

In April, ZD Net reported that Music City users had access to 20 terabytes of material available as opposed to 14 terabytes of data available through Napster.

Use of Morpheus continues to grow at a rate comparable to that of the original Napster. In recent weeks, combined downloads of Morpheus and KaZaA (basically the same program) have bypassed Audiogalaxy to become the most popular download among file trading applications and one of the most heavily downloaded programs on the Net.

The early incarnation of Music City was part of the Open Nap network, the independent network of servers based on a version of the napster protocol.

Not too long ago, that changed. Music City distanced themselves a bit from Napster by dropping OpenNap and licensing the system developed by Amsterdam-based Fast Track. That turned out to be the move that would turn the company into a serious player and one which may eventually guarantee that Music City is the next file trading network to get serious attention from both the public and the powers that be. Not only is the resulting system faster, smarter and more efficient than the old Napster, it gives you a lot more flexibility as well.

Instead of limiting your searches to MP3s, Morpheus opens the floodgates completely, allowing searches for video, audio and software.

The vast amount of video on the Music City Network make this program a favorite of many people looking for video downloads, and probably a close rival to eDonkey 2000, the obnoxious sounding but smooth running network that, despite the improbable name, is favored by many video traders.

That versatility may make Music City a target for a lot of lawyers, coming from a lot of different directions.

The Piracy Wars: Round Two


Expect to hear as much about pirated video as you've been hearing about pirated MP3s in the months to come. The Motion Picture Association of America has acted decisively again file-sharing programs before.

Last year the Association's lawsuit against the original Scour effectively smashed the company, just at the moment when it was starting to look like Scour was about to out-Napster Napster.

But that was a different scenario involving a different set of circumstances than the circumstances here. With so much video being traded, a lot of people are wondering when the MPAA lawsuit will arrive. It hasn't come yet. But that doesn't mean it won't. The real reason may be that Hollywood has had the advantage of watching the recording industry's experience with Napster, and is being careful not to make the same mistakes.

For the time being at least, the studios may prefer to bide their time and use systems like Music City as a marketing tool. Past experience has already shown that the Net is a powerful tool for building word of mouth about new releases, the kind of buzz that does good things for box office results.

The thinking may well be that a person who is willing to spend five and a half hours downloading a grainy copy of a movie like Joe Dirt is a real fan. And a fan worth having on your side...

Executives may feel that unauthorized file trading is a problem that can be controlled. And they may be right. Of course, they could also be wrong.

New codecs like DiVx which allow large video files to be compressed to much smaller sizes than was previously possible may mess with that equation, but it's a little too early to tell.

This much is certain: programs like Music City are going to put the system to the test much sooner than many people had expected.

The KaZaA Connection

In order to use Music City Morpheus, you'll need to download the Morpheus client. You can use Music City's web-based interface to search for files. But in order to actually download anything you'll need to download the program.


If you do, you'll probably realize after a few minutes that Morpheus and KaZaA are essentially the same program: with a few minor differences.
There's a good reason for that. They are the same program. They also share the same network. Which means that when you search for files using either program, you'll be searching the same pool of available material.

Depth of Content

Based on my own tests, Napster users looking for MP3s will feel right at home here. A few dozen searches for common downloads all turned up nothing but matches.

Based on the depth of content I saw, you'll probably have no troubles finding the downloads you're looking for.

More obscure material was also available in quantity. Searches for some of the less well- known bootlegs and covers on my playlist were productive, although there were some misses.

Still, when you pull up a lot of hits for obscurities like the Toy Doll's hilarious spoof on "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," - "The Devil Went Down to Scunthorpe" you know you're in business.

That newer systems like Morpheus seem to have the same depth of content that was available on Napster shouldn't be particularly surprising. Remember: the MP3s people were trading on Napster didn't go anywhere when the transfers were shut down. Most of those files are still out there, living on people's hard drives. Napster may be temporarily sidelined - but the ten billion or so files (that's billion with a b) swapped by the program's users are alive and well and propigating madly, thanks to programs like Morpheus and Audiogalaxy and the two hundred or so less popular alternatives that are active around the web.

The System

Without drowning you in technical detail, its probably enough to say that Morpheus does what it was designed to do fairly well and is considerably more advanced than the original Napster.

Transfers are generally fast and searches efficient. One good feature: search results are automatically organized for you, meaning you don't have to use a machete to fight your way through hundreds of hits for the same file, a common experience that hurt the performance of the old Napster tremendously.

A clever indexing system allows users to assign detailed keywords to individual files. In theory this should make your chances of finding hard to locate files a little better.

In practice, however, the system doesn't seem to quite live up to its potential, probably because not many people take the time to properly index their files. That may change as more people add keywords to their files.

When you get right down to it, if you were able to figure out Napster, you'll have no troubles here. Morpheus boasts a nice clean interface which is a lot more fun to use than some of it's more objectionable rivals. Over all, its a look that may not be as snazzy-looking as LimeWire or iMesh, but there isn't that much to complain about.


The Theater

Another feature which gives Morpheus and KaZaA an edge is a built in theater, which allows you to play the files you download without ever having to open another application. If the theater has a familiar feel to it, it ought to. The system is a licensed version of Windows Media Player. People loved the built-in MP3 player that came with Napster. Signs are they like this option on Morpheus just as much.

Of course, that built-in Media player means that the Music City system comes with an out-of-the-box answer to the copyright problems which have plagued similar systems.
It's not far fetched at all to picture a scenario where a company like Music City might move to a digital rights management system; especially if enough pressure is applied by the Recording Industry.

Microsoft, of course, has its own Digital Rights Management system. Having Windows Media Player on hand gives the company the ability to change tack on a dime. It wouldn't be very difficult for the company to switch to a distribution model which allows only authorized downloads.

A Couple of Things..

There are a few negatives here, however, which you may find off-putting. Unlike Napster - which still has not put ads on either its site or its software - Music City did so in April, switching to a system which displays banner ads while the program runs.

Thankfully, for the time being at least, the advertising on Music City is unobtrusive enough that it probably won't bother you. Advertising is becoming a fact of life on most commercially oriented file trading networks. Even the ones that haven't yet begun the process of dealing with the recording industry... It seems like there's no way around this. Like almost everybody else on the Web, most are just trying to find the money to stay afloat.

Advertising you can see and ignore is a lot less annoying of course than advertising that sneaks into your hard drive and does things to your system that you haven't given it permission to do. So far, I've heard nothing that leads me to suspect that Music City is distributing spyware with it's software, as several other file sharing applications do.

Both Audiogalaxy and Bearshare have been seriously affected by charges that they bundle such uninvited programs with free downloads of their programs.

The negative buzz may in fact be one reason Audiogalaxy is starting to slip in the download rankings.

A Google search with the keywords "Audiogalaxy + Spyware" turned up several thousand results including warnings about the program in English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Japanese and a number of other languages.

Word about this kind of thing gets around quickly. Hopefully, in the future people will be a little more upfront about what they package with their software.

That doesn't mean Music City isn't thinking about ways to make money. According to some reports, the company is thinking about incorporating full length audio ads into its system. If that's true, it's a move that's likely to annoy a lot of people.And it's still not clear how those ads will be delivered. And everything will depend on how that is done. Too many ads, or a klutzy MP3.com style campaign will drive people away. The idea does raise a lot of questions, however. Will the ads run only while you're downloading? When you start up the program? Every time you listen to a track?

The answers to these questions will be important. If Music City does incorporate audio ads into its system and people don't commit mass sepeku you can expect the practice to spread quickly, although the technology involved may well be beyond the reach of many smaller file sharing companies.

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