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Microsoft makes P2P play

The software company unveils additions to Windows XP and a software development kit designed to help desktop users share information via peer-to-peer applications.

Microsoft on Wednesday introduced additions to Windows XP designed to make the operating system better tuned for peer-to-peer applications.

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The software giant unveiled a beta, or testing version, of the Windows XP Peer-to-Peer Software Development Kit. The programming tools are designed to let software providers or corporate developers more easily build peer-to-peer applications on top of Windows XP.

Peer-to-peer applications, popularized by file-swapping services such as Napster and Kazaa, allow individual desktop PC users to share information directly, instead of going through a centralized server to disseminate data.

Microsoft also plans to build peer-to-peer application programming interfaces (APIs) into Windows XP. For example, with the planned APIs, Windows XP will allow devices on a peer network to find and interact with each other automatically.

Microsoft, in the development kit, has also improved the underlying data transportation protocol, Internet Protocol version 6, or IPv6, in Windows XP. The enhancements to the IPv6 software will help programmers create peer-to-peer applications across company firewalls or for mobile devices, according to Microsoft.

A final release of the software development kit and the update to Windows XP will be available later this year, according to Microsoft.

With Microsoft's strength in desktop software, it has an interest in promoting the creation of peer-to-peer applications that rely on powerful PCs, and on its Windows operating system. Last year, Microsoft purchased XDegrees, a peer-to-peer start-up, and indicated plans to use XDegrees technology in its storage products.

"The core of Microsoft's growth is based on distributed computing, what's becoming known as horizontal scaling, where lots of machines cooperate together to complete work," said John Rymer, an analyst at Giga Information Group. "Anything they can do to ease that cooperation is goodness."

Sun Microsystems is also pursuing a peer-to-peer development initiative to build up the underlying "plumbing" required for distributed applications. It's doing this through an open-source project called Jxta.

Peer-to-peer application developer Groove Networks, which received a $51 million investment from Microsoft in 2001, said the low-level additions to Windows XP have the potential to make it easier for developers to build decentralized applications.

Consulting company Cap Gemini Ernst & Young also intends to exploit the forthcoming peer-to-peer features in Windows XP.

"In the past, the discussion has been about how computers can do a better job of talking to other computers. Yet the future of business is about how people interact widely with many people around shared information, knowledge and content," Andy Mulholland, chief technology officer at Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, said in a statement.