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Microsoft working on file-sharing application

"Avalanche" is the company's own take on peer-to-peer file-sharing technology like BitTorrent.

Microsoft is working on its own file-sharing application, code-named Avalanche.

Unveiled at a Microsoft open house by its United Kingdom researchers in Cambridge, the project is the company's own take on peer-to-peer file-sharing technology such as BitTorrent.

While Avalanche is based on a different system than BitTorrent, both are essentially used for the same purpose--to distribute large files between a number of users. In BitTorrent's case, that's largely downloading Linux distributions and cracked versions of movies.

A Microsoft spokesman, however, said there was to be no network naughtiness with Avalanche: "It includes strong security to ensure content providers are uniquely identifiable and to prevent unauthorized parties from offering content for download."

BitTorrent works essentially by breaking the information, or files, down into chunks. To build up a BitTorrent file, a user needs all the chunks. Some, however, are made available more often than others, which can create problems. In the Avalanche P2P equivalent, not all the chunks are needed to complete the file. The downside of the Avalanche system is that users can actually end up downloading more chunks than they need. But, claims Microsoft, because the load is spread more evenly, it can be more efficient.

A Microsoft research paper on the technology both praises and criticizes BitTorrent: "Despite their enormous potential and popularity, existing end-system co-operative schemes such as BitTorrent, may suffer from a number of inefficiencies." The coding system used by Avalanche, which is based on network coding, is 20 percent more efficient with downloading, according to the research paper.

"We are currently investigating the benefits of using network coding to distribute very large files to a large number of users in realistic settings," the paper continues.

Microsoft's spokesman said there are currently no official plans to release the technology or include it in any products.

Builder UK's Jonathan Bennett contributed to this report.

Jo Best of reported from London.