March 19, 2001, 12:51 PM — I AM SO TIRED of hearing about peer-to-peer networking as The Next Big Thing. I can understand the interest in the fate of Napster and similar services because what's at stake in the Napster case is nothing less than the future of intellectual property. But p-to-p networking brings as many problems as it does solutions, and businesses should treat it with extreme caution.
Frankly, I don't see how to get past some basic security issues without reinventing the network operating system. P-to-p offers a lot of potential in the consumer space, but until some basic security and trust issues get resolved, I have to treat it as "toy technology" for businesses.
Before I climb fully onto my soapbox, I want to say that Napster, Gnutella, and their ilk are vehicles for theft, not necessarily by design, but unless you own the rights to a composition, accessing it or making it available to one of these services is a slam-dunk violation of copyright.
Some of the so-called benefits of peering are going to be difficult to achieve in practice. For example, file sharing is old news, and I'm one of those prickly old-fashioned types who doesn't like to allow corporate files on this side of the firewall to be world-readable. Once you start building in access controls, you have a primitive network operating system. We have enough of those already.
Even the idea of glomming onto spare CPU cycles for number-crunching tasks is one that leaves me skeptical. "Vampiring" desktop resources requires that implementers have a good feel for how the user's applications -- which, after all, are the reason for buying the computer in the first place -- use them. Notwithstanding the obvious concerns about who decides what resources get tapped and when, vampiring creates a surefire back door into a computer that the user often can't control. I've heard the arguments about leveraging underused resources, but security concerns trump just about everything in my world.
I know that I'm shouting into the wind; the genie is out of the bottle and there's no way to put it back. Teenagers and college students are rightfully going to blame the recording industry for overcharging consumers, and they will keep finding ways to use the Internet for an ongoing, giant tune-swapping festival.