Grid-computing software hitchhikes on Kazaa

By George A. Chidi, Jr., IDG News Service |  Networking

"End users that propagate their own content using Kazaa won't be affected," by the digital rights management software, Burmeister said. The digital rights management software will be used to build a system for micropayments through Altnet, allowing content owners to get paid a small amount each time their property is distributed through the network.

Users will also be compensated for their participation in Altnet, but the company hasn't yet figured out how, he said. "It will be incentive-based," Burmeister said, noting that it will be more compensation than simply being allowed to continue file-sharing with Kazaa.

Grid computing harnesses the unused processing power of computers in a network to analyze information in small chunks. A data set is broken into pieces and scattered through the Internet to home computers. The participating computers crunch the data, and then the processed bytes are sent back to the central project server. Companies using this model, pioneered by Project SERENDIP (The Search for Extraterrestrial Radio Emissions from Nearby Developed Intelligent Populations), have been looking to capitalize on the idea for commercial research, such as analyzing genome information for pharmaceutical companies.

The question of compensation is key to the ultimate success or failure of Brilliant's plan.

"The issue for companies like Kontiki (Inc.) and CenterSpan (Corp.) is convincing people that they want to be a distribution point," Goldman said, referring to other companies that are looking at distributed or grid computing. "If I'm the consumer, what's my incentive to let these guys make a buck off my computer?" Without enough compensation, users will bail out, he said. And Brilliant may not be in a good financial position to pay its subscribers to deliver its content.

Brilliant has been struggling financially, warning investors in its annual report filed Monday that without a quick boost in revenue, the company may have to cease operations. Before filing its annual report Monday after the market close, its stock on the American Stock Exchange traded at about US$0.13 per share. On Tuesday it briefly shot up to $1.30 per share before settling in at about $0.59 per share.

Free services looking to radical solutions to their money crunches haven't fared well with approaches such as advertising-supported Internet access, pay-to-surf Web sites, and distributed computing.

Ad-supported Internet service provider Juno Online Services Inc. turned to the idea of using its subscribers' computers for distributed computing when the advertising market disintegrated in 2001.

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