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Offering the High Road for File Sharing

May 20, 2002|JON HEALEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Altnet has not just garnered global distribution for its software from Kazaa. It also is closely tied to the engineers who developed Kazaa's technology and the company that oversees the current network.

Kazaa was developed by Consumer Empowerment of Amsterdam, whose principals now own 49% of Altnet, according to securities filings. Consumer Empowerment licensed its technology and sold the Kazaa brand to Sharman Networks of Vanuatu, an island nation in the South Pacific. Sharman uses Brilliant Digital Entertainment's technology to deliver animated ads through Kazaa.

By piggybacking on Kazaa, Altnet's TopSearch software already has found its way into about 25 million computers, and Bermeister said that at least 2 million more are coming online each week. Before it activates its secure file-sharing network, Bermeister said, Altnet will need a limited number of Kazaa users to sign up and download a final piece of software.

The secure Altnet Resource Network will act not only as a low-cost distribution service for digital goods but also as a source of computing power for rent. By sending computing tasks to thousands of idle machines, the network can effectively act as a supercomputer. And by storing copies of files on hard drives around the globe, the network can deliver large quantities of digital goods for much less than it would cost to send them from a single computer.

The challenge for Altnet will be to persuade consumers to be part of the new network. The initial revelations about Altnet spurred alternative file-sharing networks that don't come bundled with Altnet, such as Kazaa Lite, a variation that Sharman Networks has been battling with cease-and-desist letters.

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