BitTorrent Releases First Public Alpha of Its Sync P2P Storage Service

Subject: General Tech | April 24, 2013 - 02:17 PM |
Tagged: torrent, sync, p2p, folder sync, file sync, cloud storage, bittorrent

BitTorrent took the wraps off of its Sync application yesterday. The new Sync service uses the BitTorrent P2P protocol to sync encrypted files across all of your devices. It is a service that I have been wanting to see for a long time now, in fact, which was why I was ecstatic when I found out about the BitTorrent Labs program. I managed to get into the private alpha a couple of weeks ago, and have been testing it ever since. Being in an alpha state, it is still a bit rough around the edges but it shows promise and while I encourage everyone to read the full review for more details, I think it is something I can at least recommend that you should try out!

BitTorrent Sync_Diagram.jpg

BitTorrent Sync creates a folder in your home/user folder called SyncApp, and any files or folders that you place in that folder are synced across your devices. Additionally, you can choose existing folders to sync outside of the default SyncApp folder, which is really nice.

The encryption is a bit complicated, but you are given a secret code (decryption key) when you choose to sync a folder, and you need to enter this code on any devices you want to sync. One cool feature of this setup is that you can also generate secret codes that allow temporary and/or permanent read-only access. The master code will allow read and write access, and temporary codes can also be given write access, which would be good to share files for a limited time when collaborating on a project. Even better, the Sync application will allow you to use a custom (base64 encoded) key that is longer than 40 characters if you feel the default keys are not long/secure enough.

BitTorrent Sync.jpg

The BitTorrent Sync app for Windows--The SyncApp folder is the folder it syncs by default.

The application will sync over WAN or LAN, with a preferrence towards syncing with computers on the same local network. Changes and file syncs are initiated almost instantly, though the actual transfer speed will depend on your network connections.

It is a free app that allows you to sync as many files and folders as you want securely, and it's worh a look in my opinion. Combined with a VPS that allows P2P applications (Backupsy is one that will make an exception for Sync users), you can create your own Dropbox-like sync solution without those pesky file size limits. (Though, currently, you would be missing out on Dropbox's versioning functionality. I hope to see that remedied in future releases.)

You can find more information as well as download links for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux versions of Sync on the BitTorrent Labs website.

Yes, you may be able to tell from this post that I'm excited about Sync--I am. I'm glad someone that can actually code (as in, not me) has finally put together a program that I've been wanting for a long time, and that it generally works well from what I've been able to test so far. It's just my opinion though, if you do try it out let me know what you think of Sync!

Utorrent Becoming Ad-Supported Software

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | August 13, 2012 - 02:07 AM |
Tagged: windows, utorrent, torrent, software

µTorrent (hereafter used interchangeably with utorrent) is one of the most popular BitTorrent clients in the world, boasting more than 125 million active users a month, it has massively grown in popularity since its 2005 debut. The software is still in development, and current parent company BitTorrent Inc. has explored various methods of monetizing the application over the years. Some time ago, the developers introduced a new µTorrent Plus feature that–for $24.95–added a antivirus add-on, codec pack, remote access, and file conversion plug-in. The paid for version, which has essentially been little more than donation-ware (not that there is anything wrong with that, just that the Plus version does not add much in the way of actual torrenting that the free app is not also capable of). BitTorrent Inc. also introduced a browser toolbar, which in addition to Plus, was the company’s sole method of monetizing the software. Until now.

The µTorrent developers have announced that the next version of the torrent program will introduce ads.

In addition to the usual bug fixes and under-the-hood performance tweaks, is a (direct quote) “fresh approach to creating a no-nonsense and free torrenting experience.” Allegedly, the developers are introducing the ads to keep the lights on and pay the bills.

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The µTorrent client. No ads in the beta yet, but the next stable release should see ads in the torrent list above.

The new ads include a "featured torrent" at the top of the torrent list that will offer up suggested downloads of various multimedia files, pieces of software, and deliver important updates. Reportedly, the developers are working on offers with third parties (including indie artists) for the featured torrent such that it will present relevant results without compromising privacy. They have stated that utorrent does not collect personalized information. Rather, the ads will be “relevant” in the sense that the offers will be adjusted based on community feedback and other non-personalized factors. Your IP address will likely be used to give you country-specific ads, but they otherwise should not collect any other data or track your usage, according to the announcement.

It is free software, and the developers should be able to make some money off of their work. So long as the ads are not intrusive, the practice is all well and good. Also in the “good news” category is that µTorrent Plus members will not see any ads, so the paid-for version has some additional value for those that have already donated money.

It is not all good news though, and the community does not appear to be happy at the moment. According to the announcement, while users of the free version will be able to close out individual offers, there will be no way to turn off the ads all together. If users do not find an ad relevant, they are encouraged to click the “x” within the ad, after which a new offer will appear.

To be more specific:

“There is no way to turn in-client offers off*. We will pay attention to feedback, and may change this in the future.” [Of course, uTorrent Plus users will not see ads].

Also riling up some community members is an article by torrent-enthusiast website Torrent Freak, which has called out the developers by alleging that adding the new offers (ads) is merely a money grab.  The site calls into question the developers statement about needing the ads to “keep the lights on.” Torrent Freak reports that, according to a source in the know, uTorrent’s parent company BitTorrent Inc. is in no financial trouble and “currently generates between $15 and $20 million in annual revenue.”

Either way, the company is providing a roundabout way to get rid of the ads by buying the µTorrent Plus version. Alternatively, there are several other free torrent clients out there if you do not wish to see ads. Personally, I do not think that µTorrent is doing anything wrong by attempting to monetize its work, but I do find the rather quiet announcement irritating. I think that the developers could have found a more receptive audience if users did not have to find out about the change from other sites first. Update: after some thought, this is just the first announcement and users may well be told within the application of the changes before updating when it does come out. Here's hoping. (end of update). It just feels a bit like they tried to slip the ad announcement in without users being any the wiser (as I believe it’s a small percentage of that user base that follows the developer’s forum). As far as the ads themselves, I will have to wait and see once it is official (the latest beta build I have does not yet have ads) to determine if the offers will be intrusive. Assuming the privacy statement is legitimate and the ads do not impair normal torrenting, I’ll keep using µTorrent and support them with ads since I can’t justify a Plus purchase currently. The latest beta build does improve the support for magnet links, and I have not had any problems with it yet so I'll keep using it.

What do you think though? Will you keep using utorrent with ads? If you want to leave the utorrent developers feedback on the change, the team has asked for comments on the announcement thread.

Source: utorrent

18,592 Academic Papers Released To Public Via Torrent

Subject: General Tech | July 21, 2011 - 04:29 PM |
Tagged: torrent, tech, networking, jstor

In light of Aaron Swartz’s recent legal trouble involving charges being brought against him for downloading academic papers from the online pay-walled database called JSTOR using MIT’s computer network, a bittorrent user named Greg Maxwell has decided to fight back against publishers who charge for access to academic papers by releasing 18,592 academic papers to the public in a 32.48 gigabyte torrent uploaded to The Pirate Bay.

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Maxwell claims that the torrent consists of documents from the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society journal. According to Gigaom, the copyrights on these academic papers have been expired for some time; however, the only way to access these documents have been through the pay-walled JSTOR database where individual articles can cost as much as $19. While Maxwell claims to have gained access to the papers many years prior through legal means (likely through a college or library’s database access), he has been fearful of releasing the documents due to legal repercussions from the journal’s publishers. He claims that the legal troubles that Swartz is facing for (allegedly) downloading the JSTOR library has fueled his passion and changed his mind about not releasing them.

Maxwell justifies the release by stating that the authors and universities do not benefit from their work, and the move to a digital distribution method has yet to coincided with a reduction in prices. In the past the high cost (sometimes paid by the authors) has been such to cover the mechanical process of binding and printing the journals. Maxwell further states that to his knowledge, the money those wishing to verify their facts and learn more from these academic works “serves little significant purpose except to perpetuate dead business models.” The pressure and expectation that authors must publish or face irrelevancy further entrenches the publisher’s business models.

Further, GigaOm quoted Maxwell in stating:

“If I can remove even one dollar of ill-gained income from a poisonous industry which acts to suppress scientific and historic understanding, then whatever personal cost I suffer will be justified . . . it will be one less dollar spent in the war against knowledge. One less dollar spent lobbying for laws that make downloading too many scientific papers a crime.”

Personally, I’m torn on the ethics of the issue. On one hand, these academic papers should be made available for free (or at least at cost of production) to anyone that wants them as they are written for the betterment of humanity and pursuit of knowledge (or at least as a thought provoking final paper). On the other hand, releasing the database via a torrent has it’s own issues. As far as non-violent protests go, this is certainly interesting and likely to get the attention of the publishers and academics. Whether it will cause them to reevaluate their business models; however, is rather doubtful (and unfortunate).

Image courtesy Isabelle Palatin.

Source: GigaOm