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Internet

Upstart revamps P2P business software

Kontiki hopes a new feature that lets companies govern the distribution of information will entice them into using its peer-to-peer software to speed Internet operations.

Kontiki, a start-up that hopes to use peer-to-peer software to speed Internet operations, has revised its software to let companies tightly control how content is spread over its network.

Kontiki unveiled software Tuesday that helps companies control the distribution of information such as sales presentations or videos. The new Kontiki Delivery Management System lets administrators take actions such as governing access to content or automatically deleting files after a certain period of time, according to Chief Executive Mike Homer.

The software lets administrators specify "how many times a user can use it, who has access to it, (whether it should) be moved off the PC," and other functions, Homer said.

The company's software combines central servers, where content originates, and a network of Windows PCs that help distribute that content. Peer-to-peer networking came to the attention of the computing world through the raging success of the Napster music-swapping service, but Kontiki's service builds in tight control over content to assuage the concerns of those who have rights to the data.

The key software behind Kontiki's network is a software plug-in that lets a person download information not only from a central server, as happens with traditional Internet transfers, but also from other PCs on the network. Using the system, Homer said, data is transferred quickly because the Kontiki software collects it from several sources simultaneously after determining which sources are fastest.

Homer, an alumnus of Netscape Communications, has experience with software that transforms the Internet, but his company has abundant competition. Others with similar technology include Red Swoosh, eMikolo Networks, OpenCola, Radiance Technologies, Yaga, Blue Falcon Networks and PeerGenius. And companies such as Akamai Technologies already have an established presence in stashing information around the Internet so it's faster to retrieve.

With the recession and the vanished enthusiasm for Internet start-ups, Kontiki is directing its sales efforts at corporate markets. TiVo, VeriSign, Nextel Communications and Palm use the software to distribute information such as presentations to their sales force and business partners, Homer said. And McAfee.com uses Kontiki to offer virus-alert videos.

"Enterprises happen to be the ones that find this service valuable. They're willing to pay," Homer said. However, he added, the technology works for the broader consumer market as well.

Critical mass and corporate conservatism are other obstacles that stand in the way of Kontiki's success. Kontiki's network will work better if the company can convince as many computer users as possible to download the software. But big businesses often frown on people installing software on company computers, and they might have concerns when that software sops up networking capacity.

Homer said the company has 120,000 computers in its network so far.

Kontiki's new software uses XML (Extensible Markup Language) in combination with Microsoft Windows' digital rights management software to control how files are distributed and used. Homer said Kontiki expects it will add support for RealNetworks software by the end of the year.

The Sundance Film Festival organizers were among those who have tried the new Kontiki features. Attendees could download trailers and short films, Homer said, and through the company's XML Delivery Security software, "all those (files) disappeared 30 days later."

Digital rights management software, which governs copyrighted information such as music, is a key issue for peer-to-peer content distribution networks. Music labels were terrified by the success of Napster, which let people share music at no charge. But Kontiki has had some success with media companies: AOL Time Warner is in the midst of a Kontiki trial, and Sony tested it in 2001, Homer said.