By Robert Menta- 5/7/01
Napster has released the latest version of its file trading program. Normally, such an announcement would be greeted with a matter-of-fact attitude as the normal evolution of any software package, but this time it is a little different. That's because the new version of Napster includes the first implementation of its new "acoustic fingerprinting technology".
The purpose of the technology is to help Napster identify files traded on its service more accurately, making it easier for the company to filter out songs. Napster needs to do to this to satisfy a court order requiring the company to strip copyright music from the service.
So far, filtering these files have met with mixed results, both because of the limitations of the company's previous methods and because user's came up with several ways to circumvent these measures. Acoustic fingerprinting will make circumventing the system harder.
So the question is who would want to update their older version of Napster since it is free of such technology? Despite a drop of over 40% from its earlier 60 million user base, Napster still retains a robust 35 million active users on the service, several million larger than America Online. Obviously users are finding some of the music they search for.
Few who are aware of the additional security measures will want to upgrade. Many users are already jumping to different P2P programs, continuing to use Napster in conjunction with these alternative services like Aimster, Music City, and Gnutella. Combined, these programs can still accomplish what Napster used to do alone before the court's ruling, leaving no incentive to rush to install Napster 2.0 beta 10.
Still, whether a user upgrades to beta 10 or not may be all moot anyway in the coming months. That is when Napster majority owner Bertelsmann plans to convert the free service to a paid subscription model. At that point only music from BMG and its subsidiaries will be allowed, making Napster an even less effective tool.
We don't know how many will pay to use Napster with such limitations. We just know there are other unencumbered options out there that are for free. Once they start billing, for many consumers Napster will become just another unused program on the desktop.
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