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New features planned for file swappers

In the midst of a potentially crippling lawsuit leveled by the recording and movie industries, MusicCity is planning a more powerful version of its popular file-swapping software.

In the midst of a potentially crippling lawsuit leveled by the recording and movie industries, peer-to-peer company MusicCity is planning a new, more powerful version of its popular file-swapping software.

MusicCity, also known as StreamCast Networks, makes the Morpheus file-trading software application that has consistently been one of the most popular downloads online for the last several months.

In a newsletter sent out to users of the software for the first time this week, the company said it is close to releasing a version 2.0 of the program, which will tap into parallel Gnutella-based peer-to-peer networks, and support Windows XP. The company also said it is working on a version for Macintosh computers to be released in Spring 2002.

"The StreamCast Networks Tech Gurus have been working diligently to develop a new feature set to give you the best (peer-to-peer) user experience possible," the company's newsletter said. It stopped short of giving away any definite release date.

The Morpheus software is one of three separate programs that link together into what has become the largest file-trading network now operating it the wake of Napster's collapse. Together, Kazaa, MusicCity and Grokster offer access to the libraries of hundreds of thousands of people at a time, swapping copyrighted music, movies and software, as well as non-copyrighted material.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) sued the parent companies of all three services in October, contending that like Napster, each was contributing to the widespread pirating of copyrighted materials online. StreamCast is being defended by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in what could be a precedent-setting case.

The service may be more difficult to close than Napster, however. Because of technical differences in the way that files are traded, the network created by the three companies' software does not have any central bottleneck point which can be closed, in turn shutting down the network itself. It's possible that all three companies could be put out of business, and file trading could go on without them using the software they have already distributed.

A court in the Netherlands, where Kazaa's parent company is based, recently ordered that network to halt file trading or face daily fines. The deadline for that action came and went a week ago, however, and people are still using the Kazaa network.

Even as the Morpheus software moves toward Gnutella, that network is taking a page from the younger services' technical playbook.

LimeWire, one of the most popular pieces of software that uses the open-source Gnutella technology, released its own new software version earlier this month.

Gnutella software has traditionally worked by connecting every personal computer running the software in a vast, centerless web, with each computer relaying search requests and results to the next. Morpheus and Kazaa, by contrast, automatically choose a few powerful computers with fast connections to act as temporary index and switching stations, making searches and network connections faster and more stable.

LimeWire is now adding this type of feature into its software, in hopes that it will make the Gnutella network easier to use.

The Gnutella Network, which is created by anyone using LimeWire, BearShare, or a variety of other software programs based on Gnutella technology, has fallen in popularity in recent months. According to statistics tracked by LimeWire, the average number of people online has hovered around 20,000 in the last month, down from a peak of more than 50,000 last summer.