Contest #1: The Software Hall Of Fame

You'll have four chances to win an iPod or 36 other prizes in the Great Tech Call-'Em-Like-You-See-'Em Contest. Give us your two cents and win!

June 6, 2005

31 Min Read
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When it comes to technology awards, we are usually treated to long-winded treatises by self-appointed experts who don't really know a bit from a byte, and who worship anything shiny and new. What we don't get is a rundown of the best tech from all the grunts out there who use computers day-to-day.

We're about to fix that.

Welcome to The Great Tech Call-'Em-Like-You-See-'Em Contest, the contest where you can win one of two iPods, plus 36 other cool prizes.

Each week for four weeks we'll expound on a different theme in a series of short essays by various TechWeb Pipeline editors and then let our readers take over by submitting their own contributions. The topics are:


  • The Software Hall Of Fame: What is your favorite software app of the last 10 years? (Enter from the last page of this story.)

  • The Hardware Hall Of Fame: What's the best hardware you've come across in the past decade? (Now open!)

  • The Next Big Thing: There's a lot of great stuff coming up. What tech do you see in your future? (There's still time to enter!)

  • Helpless User Stories: Tell us your best, funniest, and/or most horrifying story of user lo-jinks. (Enter now!) Why are we doing this? Because we want to know what you think is the most useful, most elegant, coolest, or strangest tech that you've come across in the past 10 years. Something that changed your life — or made you stay up until 3 a.m. because it was just too great to stop playing with. Something that is either really popular because it deserves it — or that nobody else knows about, but would be on everyone's system if all the rest of us idiots knew what you knew.

    The Software Hall Of Fame

    GmailX1Movable TypeMac OS XICQDreamweaverEcco ProEudoraFeedDemonNapster

    The first week, we're looking for entries to our Software Hall Of Fame. No software is too large — or too small — to qualify. We're just asking that it have been available sometime in the last 10 years. You have a word processor that should have knocked Word off its pedestal? A utility that speeds up your Web browser like a demented bunny? A game that made you miss your own wedding? Tell us about it.

    Why would you want to write about your favorite software? Really? To win prizes, of course.

    About The Contest How do you win? It's easy. 1.  Read our editors' essays. This week, ten TechWeb editors have written their hearts out to convince you that their favorite software applications are the best there are. Read them — because they're clever; because you'll learn about some really fantastic tech; because they'll clue you in on the type of essays we're looking for; and because, well, we've worked hard on these!

    2.  Write 200 to 500 words about some software you're nuts about. Impress us with your erudition, make us laugh, dazzle us with your well-reasoned arguments, do something to make us sit up and take notice. Remember, in our contest — as in life — style counts. Write as often as you like — but each entry has to be about a different product, technology, or true story.

    3.  Send us your deathless prose using the contest form on the last page of this article.

    4.  Keep your fingers crossed!

    All entries must be received by July 5. On or around July 15, our team of judges (drawn from the TechWeb Pipeline editors) will award the writers of the very best essays with one of our fantastic prizes:

  • Grand Prize: An Apple iPod Photo 30GB



  • 10 Second Prizes: X1 Technologies' X1 Desktop Search, Outlook + Lotus Notes Edition


  • 26 Runner-Up Prizes: Six Logitech QuickCams (three QuickCam for Notebooks Deluxe and three QuickCam Communicate STX versions), 10 copies of Thornsoft Development's ClipMate Clipboard Extender for Windows, and 10 copies of Sunbelt Software's CounterSpy.

Please read the contest rules for important information. Many thanks to X1, Logitech, Thornsoft, and Sunbelt Software for contributing their goods to our cause. Your First Assignment: The Software Hall Of Fame
Read on to find out which products our editors chose for the Software Hall Of Fame. After you've read our picks, tell us what you think!

By Ted Kemp

Be honest. Ask yourself: How much of this stuff — computer technology, that is — actually works the way it's supposed to? I'm talking about technology that's as easy and effective as, say, a toaster. Or even a push mower, for that matter. Or the nail gun I fantasize about blasting through my laptop every time it crashes. (And don't get me started on what I'd like to do with the nail gun every time I have to call customer service.)

Technologies that work — really work — are made by only a handful of companies. The first one that comes to my mind is Google. And of Google's better products, one of the first that I think of is Gmail, its Web-based e-mail service.

I've been using Gmail for about a year, blasting photos, PDF attachments, and long-winded narratives all over the place, discarding neither friends' responses nor my own sent messages. Despite this, I have used only one percent of my allotted 2,251 MB (and counting) of free Gmail memory. Before adopting Gmail, I used Hotmail from Microsoft. I was perpetually picking through my mailbox for deletable messages so I could pull my memory meter back down out of the red. Even with its memory "boost," Hotmail barely offered me 10 percent of the space Gmail does.


Google makes stuff that works intuitivelyand consistently.

When I open a link to a Web page in Google, I actually link to that Web page. Yes, that's right, Microsoft: Google actually lets me leave its servers without hassling me about it. When I used to try linking to a page from Hotmail, I'd get a facsimile of that URL while Hotmail ran an insidious message across the top of the page, "warning" me that I was going "outside" Hotmail. As if I didn't know I was going outside Hotmail. As if I didn't want to.

When I open an e-mail string in Gmail, it automatically condenses long series of messages into neat packages unless I ask to expand them. With Hotmail, I got entire, unwieldy jumbles of responses on top of responses. (And with Yahoo Mail, you get responses on top of responses with the added "Do You Yahoo?" boilerplate slapped on the bottom of each one.)

Just now I was trying to tool through my old Hotmail account to see if I could find other things I hated about it. But unfortunately, all the links stopped working. It says there's an error on the page. (Simultaneously, my Gmail account works fine in another window.) I'm not making this up.

Goodbye, Microsoft and Hotmail. Hello, Google and Gmail. Forever.

There's all sorts of talk these days about Google entering the business market and competing with Microsoft, even as the company adds functionality to its consumer products. I take that talk seriously. You know why? Yep, you guessed it: because Google makes stuff that works intuitively and consistently. Like Gmail. And unlike a lot of the rest of the technology out there. Ted Kemp is Editor of Business Intelligence Pipeline.

Got the idea? Submit your Software Hall Of Fame entry now!
By Mike Elgan

So you've spent your kids' college money on a PC that races like a dachshund on crystal meth. Now when you double-click that 20-page Word document that used to take minutes to load, it pops opens in a second.

Too bad it took you an hour to find it.

Most people find a file by guessing where it might be, then drilling down into endless nested folders and seeing if it's there. Any self-respecting propellerhead, however, will lean toward the use of a search utility. Microsoft bundles a pathetic search utility with Windows XP. However, the Department of Justice didn't consider this "bundling" anti-competitive: It's so bad it actually helps the competition. There are also a lot of shareware, freeware, or pay-way-more-than-it's-worth-ware out there to help you find files.


With this kind of performance, you can pack a lot more Angelina-viewing into your workload.

The problem with most search utilities, however, is that they don't use the basic formula perfected by an ancient DOS program called Magellan. That's why X1 is so great. It stole the Magellan formula. The secret Magellan sauce is to find files as you type and show the results in a right-hand pane in real time with search words highlighted. This is how X1 works.

Let's say you're at work and you need to find that picture of Angelina Jolie you stashed away. Bring up X1 and choose Email, Files, Attachments, or Contacts. (Contacts? Yeah, you wish...) Click into the Search field and start typing. As soon as your index finger strikes the "A" key, every file on your system with an "A" in it appears in your search list. Press the "N" key, and every file with "AN" together appears. The list will keep narrowing down until you stop typing.

Each hit on the list appears in a left-hand window pane with the selected words highlighted. Click on the file name, and the contents pop into the right-hand pane, with each search phrase hit in a different color. Bang on the down-arrow key and you'll rip through the hits.

With this kind of performance, you can pack a lot more Angelina-viewing into your workload.

X1 supports 370 file formats, as well as Outlook, Outlook Express, Eudora, Mozilla, Thunderbird, Netscape Mail, and Lotus Notes. You can even search attachments — while they're still attached.

X1 is amazing. Get in the habit of using X1, and you'll be like a dachshund on crystal meth with high-speed total recall.

Mike Elgan is Editor of Personal Tech Pipeline. Got the idea? Submit your Software Hall Of Fame entry now!
Movable Type
By Brad Shimmin


Not since Pythagoras, while noshing on souvlaki and ouzo, dreamt up the theorem that bears his name has a single invention baffled and benefited so many as when Mena and Ben Trott created a modest Perl and PHP hack called Movable Type in October 2001. A great leveler of humanity and possibly the only living embodiment of the desktop publishing movement, Movable has powered both lunatics lurking in their mother's basements and U.S. presidential hopefuls (including the Bush/Cheney '04 campaign site).

Constructed very much like a Pythagorean theorem, Movable Type is the blog software for publishers who want total code control and don't mind getting their hands dirty along the way. You want to create a sidebar blog, using recent comments, with its own RSS feed? No sweat. Looking to add workflow to your multi-author blog? Okay, Movable Type doesn't do that. But thanks to a solid API, someone undoubtedly has extended Movable Type to accommodate this and anything else, from anti-spam tools to wiki software.

Movable Type was also one of the first Weblog software packages to take the concept of content management seriously by assuming that more than one blogger might choose to co-exist on the same blog at the same time. Simply brilliant. Similarly, Movable Type was one of the first to allow publishers to pick and chose their own database software, from the Berkely DB flat file database to the widely available MySQL, PostgreSQL, or SQLite.


A great leveler of humanity, Movable Type has powered both lunatics lurking in their mother's basements and U.S. presidential hopefuls.

Sure, Movable Type does harbor some maddening aspects. When Six Apart — the company that the Trotts created around Movable Type and other blog software — chose to charge virtually everyone to use its beloved software, many in the blogosphere labeled the Trotts as carpetbagging opportunists. But the corporate licensing scheme actually worked in the software's favor by legitimizing its position in the enterprise-class software pantheon. Traditionally, these firms could not invest in software that was not supported or seen as viable. But Six Apart's modest licensing costs ended up giving many companies an alternative to the traditionally bloated, overpriced content management packages available.

Granted, Movable Type also introduced us to the joy that is comment spam. You can't throw a rock without hitting a Movable Type administrator who has spent as much time worrying about removing spam as he or she spends actually posting blog entries. Still, the mathematical elegance of Movable Type's embedded comment structure, where every story is at once an author's statement and a running commentary from his/her readership, makes this software eminently worthy of our Hall of Fame.

Brad Shimmin is a Business Analyst with CMP Media.

Got the idea? Submit your Software Hall Of Fame entry now!
Mac OS X
By Scot Finnie

Why is a self-proclaimed Windows guy touting a four-year-old Macintosh desktop OS as the best of the best? Because it's the damn truth, that's why. Apple successfully grafted its well-known, oft-ripped-off Macintosh user interface onto BSD Unix — creating the best of two very different worlds. Unix's power and reliability is supremely complemented by Apple's aesthetics and attention to user detail. Apple outdid both Microsoft and the Linux movement with a single stroke.


If you're in a position to make your owndecision about the Mac vs. Windows question,take the road less traveled.

Maybe I'm back singing the Mac's praises so loudly now because I was late returning to the Apple party. Heck, I missed the boat. On the eve of Steve Jobs' return to greatness, I became so infuriated with the procession of Apple's ineffectual CEOs that I opted out. In the summer of 1997, the same year Jobs returned to Apple, I sold my last Mac, a Quadra 800. The guy who bought it (dirt cheap) got a big surprise — several extra boxes thrown in gratis, containing every cable, accessory, and Mac software package I had collected over more than a decade. I had washed my hands of Apple.

Bad timing. Jobs may have lost the market-share war forever, but the dude can still direct a company to build the best hardware and develop the premier OS user interface. In early 2001, after several years and a couple of false starts, Apple released the best desktop operating system ever to grace any kind of PC: Mac OS X.

Since its initial release, Mac OS X has been updated several times, including the recent 10.4 Tiger release with built-in desktop search. None of the incremental releases over the last four years has been as dramatic, but they've shown something far more important: Apple is committed to staying ahead of the curve. Tiger is a solid, refined operating system with very few rough edges and no major flaws. Some serious recognition is due Apple Computer for the vision and intense development work behind OS X. The Mac may represent less than 10 percent of the PC marketplace, but Mac owners are discerning and downright smart PC buyers. If you're in a position to make your own decision about the Mac vs. Windows question (all too few of us are these days), take the road less traveled.

As for me, my timing was a little better with Windows. I managed to land a reviews editor gig at a well-known PC publication just a few months before Windows 3.0 shipped. Only trouble was, I was a Mac bigot in those days. There's just no pleasing the computer gods.

Scot Finnie is Editor of TechWeb and the Pipelines.

Got the idea? Submit your Software Hall Of Fame entry now!
By Valerie Potter

There I was, working away at my computer at a mid-sized online media company in late 1996, when I heard a wild "uh oh!" sound and saw a dialog box pop up on my screen. It was my first-ever instant message, a note from a friend and co-worker inviting me to become an ICQ user. I gamely clicked yes and the software installed itself on my machine.

This was my introduction to ICQ (a play on "I seek you"), the first commercial instant messaging (IM) program, released in beta from Israeli startup Mirabilis Ltd. in November 1996. Adorned with a cute flower icon and that crazy "uh oh!" sound to announce new messages, the product sparked an immediate and lasting affection in its users. Long before the phrase "viral marketing" entered our vocabulary, we were actively evangelizing ICQ to other Internet users. The fact that it was free helped it spread that much quicker.

Within hours of receiving my initial message, I had added numerous friends and co-workers to my contacts list. If someone wasn't already on ICQ, I just sent them a "please join" message. In those pre-spyware times, everyone said yes. Soon you could hear the "uh oh!" sound everywhere in our building as people pinged each other constantly about matters great and small.

From the start, ICQ was both social and work tool. "Uh oh!" was just as likely to herald a message saying "Can you re-send me that story file?" as one saying "Wanna go get lunch?" Either way, it was a much more immediate and satisfying means of communication than e-mail.


Adorned with a cute flower icon and that crazy "uh oh!" sound for new messages, ICQ sparked an immediate and lasting affection in its users.

ICQ also allowed for easy nonverbal communication in the workplace. When you signed on, everybody else knew it, and this early form of presence technology showed at a glance who was available. If you wanted a face-to-face chat, you could quickly IM a co-worker to see whether it was a good time. And we all learned to turn ICQ off when we were busy, indicating that we had no time for interruptions. (The "I'm busy" status indicator came later.) Since then, of course, the instant messaging market has been flooded with competing products from AOL, Yahoo, Microsoft, and more, and the features have gotten far more advanced across the board. There are even IM products geared specifically for business use. ICQ itself was purchased by AOL in 1998, though, thankfully, it continues to exist as a separate product.

These days my company uses the clunky, ad-laden AOL Instant Messenger, so that's what I use too. But my heart will always belong to ICQ, because it introduced the power and sheer delightfulness of instant messaging to the world.

Valerie Potter is Features Editor for the TechWeb Pipelines.

Got the idea? Submit your Software Hall Of Fame entry now!
By Don St. John

Which is better: long division or a calculator? Unless you're in fourth grade with a teacher standing over you while you figure out how many times 17 goes into 74, the answer is easy. But for the first generation of Web producers, hand-coding sites in HTML was the equivalent of 1479377 divided by 496230, one line at a time.

I did the whole initial site for a magazine just that way, back in the Pleistocene Era (1995). Bigger sites came along where producers had the luxury of database-driven content management systems, but even those could be cumbersome. And early Web tools like Adobe's PageMill or Microsoft's first version of FrontPage? I couldn't fling that crap onto my pile of Worthless Dreck To Be Sold (If Possible) quickly enough.


Dreamweaver was the first tool thatmade it easy for anyone to put up a Web site,no prior knowledge required.

Then Macromedia — the company that brought us Shockwave and Flash, and was among the first to get what the Web could really do — stepped into the fray with Dreamweaver. And it was good. Really good, in fact.

What did it offer? Pixel-deep control of elements, just by plugging numbers into the console. Generated Javascript — a bit bloated at times, but still a ton easier than working it out on one's own. Nice integration with CSS/CSS2 and XHTML. Snappy site-wide control and templating abilities that let you apply changes across a body of pages, no matter how granular. A whole lot more, too. And it was all startlingly easy to use. In essence, this was the first tool that made it easy for anyone to put up a Web site, no prior knowledge required. Others have followed, and have their adherents —particularly Adobe's GoLive — but to me, Dreamweaver is the template for everything that followed.

That's still important. Lots of sites (like this one) have gone way beyond what Dreamweaver can do for them, sporting sophisticated commerce systems, databases that allow for massive 24/7 updating, blogging software, and much more. It's not your father's Web anymore...except that it still really is, because the promise of the World Wide Web continues to be that anyone can express themselves to the entire planet simply by having their own site.

The old line that freedom of the press is available only to those who can afford a press has been turned on its head: The Web is history's cheapest, most accessible printing press. In a fearful time when "you need to watch what you say" is an operating principle for many, the ability to say whatever you please is perhaps more important than ever. Dreamweaver is a tool that continues to make that possible.

Don St. John is Editor of Server Pipeline.

Got the idea? Submit your Software Hall Of Fame entry now!
Ecco Pro
By Barbara Krasnoff In these still-rocky economic times, when the recently re-employed are clutching onto their brand new jobs by their fingernails, you really want to make sure you've got the tools that will keep your boss happy and your health insurance current.

So when I took a new job where I knew I'd be juggling a large number of people, deadlines, and products, I started to panic. What could I use? Project management software? Only for suit-and-tie types who have a Master's in business jargon. ACT? Great for salespeople, maybe, but not so good for the rest of us. Microsoft Outlook? Usable, but I kept cracking my head against its many limitations. And then I remembered Ecco.


Ecco showed up on the software charts around 1993, when it joined a number of personal information managers (also called PIMs) that included Sidekick, Lotus Organizer, Daytimer Organizer, and Microsoft Outlook. It was a lot more configurable than the others, and also a lot harder to learn — rather than follow the usual calendar/contacts/notes paradigm, it used an outline format, together with columns and folders. So, not for the faint of heart.

But if you didn't mind spending a bit of learning time up front, Ecco could be the perfect repository for all your daily work info. When I recalled how sane it kept me in a previous job, I knew it was the solution to my problem. Except that Ecco, like many other '90s PIMs, is no longer on the market. NetManage, the program's last owner, decided it had other priorities and abandoned Ecco in 1999.


If something hits the fan, I know exactlywhere to go to get all my data on what was said,who said it, and why it wasn't my fault.

Fortunately, NetManage still makes the final version of the software available on the company Web site. I downloaded a copy, installed it, configured it, and relaxed.

This is some of what I've got on Ecco today: My contact list, together with pertinent observations ("Use him only as a last resort — he never returns calls."). My calendar/schedule/task list. A notepad for jotting down stuff from conference calls and for any bursts of inspiration that may hit during the day. Notepads for possible projects, assigned projects, and finished projects, including all my various annotations ("Says she'll do it, but needs an extra week for planned vacation. Vacation? Who takes vacations these days?") and added columns for due dates, assigned writers, and pay rates. So if something hits the fan, I know exactly where to go to get all my data on what was said, who said it, and why it wasn't my fault.

Like other legacy apps that have developed a loyal fan base, Ecco has been kept online and available by a small group of users who are actively engaged in trying to keep the legacy alive. They have even managed to get the open-source community interested — a new forum for both interested developers and hopeful users has just sprung up in an effort to bring Ecco up to date. This is extremely good news, since it means that some of the software's limitations (for example, it apparently crashes if your data file reaches a certain size, and it could be a lot more Web-friendly) might be fixed in the near future.

Meanwhile, for me, Ecco isn't just an out-of-date software product. It's my current shield against total informational — and economic — meltdown.

Barbara Krasnoff is Reviews Editor for the TechWeb Pipelines. Got the idea? Submit your Software Hall Of Fame entry now!
By Richard Hoffman

So I'm under the gun, right in the middle of researching a subject for an upcoming article, and I want to search through eight years of accumulated e-mail archives (older stuff is offline on CD media).

I open the search window and put in my term — a single term in this case, but I could just as well make the search criteria as complex as I like, such as looking only for phrases that end with the words "service" or contain "802.11," sent between six months and two years ago, of less than 16K. The search engine in my e-mail client efficiently churns through more than 80,000 saved messages that take up about 400MB (with another 300MB of attachments) in 280 separate mailbox folders nested four layers deep. Within an almost-miraculous 15 seconds, a handy list of matching e-mail messages is returned, and I find exactly what I was looking for.


Eudora is powerful, complex, and can do everything I need it to do. But the key factor for me is the time saved in searching.

Oh, and at the same time, I'm downloading a new batch of e-mail from across nine different POP3 and IMAP servers, all of which were automatically and flawlessly filtered and sorted on the fly into the appropriate folders, as well as being run through an effective Bayesian spam filter which knocked out 99 percent of the incoming spam — all without my having to lift a finger. Am I using Outlook to do all of this? (Sorry, I had to go take a break for a bit and get a drink of water so I could stop laughing.) If I had a couple of hours to waste, maybe, and even then, I'd probably completely choke it with that kind and size of an archive, and the results returned wouldn't be half as useful.

No, I'm using the absolute best all-purpose e-mail client out there: Eudora. I happen to be running it on a Mac under OS 10.4 (Tiger), but I could just as well be using Windows 98/ME/2000/3/XP — all are supported by Eudora.

Eudora's features are top-notch. It's powerful, complex, and can do everything I need it to do. But the key factor for me is the time saved in searching. I can do searches almost in real time, and that makes my e-mail archive an increasingly useful tool with every new e-mail I store in it. The result is that my electronic packrat instincts are richly rewarded by Eudora's almost miraculous search capabilities, instead of punished by the excruciating time lags I used to endure with other, less capable e-mail clients.

Eudora, you turn my mountain of e-mail from an enormous heap of useless data into a pure goldmine.

Richard Hoffman is Editor of Developer Pipeline. Got the idea? Submit your Software Hall Of Fame entry now!
By Mitch Wagner

When I first tried downloading RSS feeds, I found the process to be something that sounded like a good idea, but was a lot more trouble than it was worth. However, all that changed when I started using FeedDemon. This is a great tool for organizing, reading, and filing data from lots of Web sites. If you don't use FeedDemon, you're wasting heaps of time.


The reason FeedDemon is the best is actually not one reason at all, but a million small reasons. For example, the user interface is simple and friendly — you can get around with either the mouse or keyboard shortcuts, whichever you prefer. On other news aggregators, things just seem to take more mouse-movements and clicks than they do with FeedDemon.

FeedDemon is also very customizable. There's a variety of styles for displaying RSS feeds (called "newspapers" in FD lingo). The newspaper styles control fonts, colors, and how news items are laid out on the screen. FeedDemon comes with a batch of newspaper styles already included, and its developer and users are steadily writing more. I've written two myself: one to get RSS items laid out so they're ready to be blogged, another to get them ready for inclusion in e-mail newsletters.

FeedDemon lets me set up searches and watches so I can filter either my subscribed news feeds, or all feeds on the Internet, for keywords. What's the difference? Searches look at current feeds, while watches set up for the appearance of terms in future feeds.

On other news aggregators, things just seemto take more mouse-movements and clicksthan they do with FeedDemon.

Of course, since FeedDemon came out nearly two years ago, the competition hasn't been standing still. All of the features of FeedDemon are available in some other aggregators, but none of the competitors have all its benefits rolled into one package. I shop around occasionally, but I keep coming back.

The company that produces FeedDemon, Bradbury Software, was recently purchased by a rival news aggregator, NewsGator. I'm not thrilled about that — I can't think of a single example of when a corporate merger was a benefit to the customers of the smaller company. But there's reason to hope this merger might be the exception, for the simple reason that NewsGator also does a good job of providing news aggregators. I can see the possibility of some nice synergies between the two technologies. For starters, the combined companies are working on making it easier for users to synchronize their feeds between multiple computers and mobile devices.

FeedDemon may not revolutionize the Internet, but it's revolutionized my use of the Internet. And it's all about me, isn't it?

Mitch Wagner is Senior Editor for the TechWeb Pipelines. Got the idea? Submit your Software Hall Of Fame entry now!
By Matt McKenzie

You've read our Software Hall Of Fame picks. Now tell us about yours for a chance to win an iPod.Enter Now!

The summer of 2000 was like something out of a Dali painting. Money grew on trees, rivers flowed backward, and people took notice of the flying pigs only if they happened to be standing under one at just the wrong moment. It was also the right time for Napster — barely a year old at the time and already enthralling music fans by the millions, thanks to technology so simple no one had bothered to try it before.

Under the circumstances, it made perfect sense for an online service to offer music — mind-boggling, jaw-dropping, eye-popping quantities of music — in super-hip MP3 format, at a price point that captured the Zeitgeist in a single, perfect round digit. Shawn Fanning and his friends decided that it was too damned hard to steal music off the Internet; peer-to-peer software offered a solution, getting everyone — and I do mean everyone — to contribute something to the pot. Cheap bandwidth, cheap desktop storage, cheap music fans, and a pack of frat boys with a couple servers and a bitchin' logo turned "P2P" into a cultural phenomenon.

P2P was also, of course, a legal and economic phenomenon: Napster promoted theft on a Cecil B. DeMille scale and then used P.T. Barnum marketing to keep everyone too busy nodding and winking to consider the implications. By mid-2000, however, the game was over. Even as some people pulled frenzied all-nighters to scrape the bottom of Napster's barrel (Tuvan throat-singing classics? Leonard Nimoy? The "Dukes Of Hazzard" soundtrack? Better grab it all, just in case.), others were ready to accept a system offering good music at a fair price.


Cheap bandwidth, cheap desktop storage, cheap music fans, and a pack of frat boys with a bitchin' logo turned "P2P" into a cultural phenomenon.

The entertainment industry bottom-feeders that Napster stirred up, however, took a different tack. First they drove P2P technology underground, turning once-peaceable geeks into seething little P2P revenge machines. Next, they sued their own customers, throwing in a smattering of infants, the deaf, old ladies, and dead people for good measure. Finally, the Internet music services that crawled to market around this time learned the same lesson: Consumers won't pay companies to treat them like thieving scumbuckets (even if they were, and especially if they knew it).

Bear in mind: These are the same Hollywood humanoids who tried their damnedest to sue VCR technology out of existence in the early 1980s, just before it spawned an industry that made staggering amounts of money...for the exact same people. This time around, faced with a similar challenge, an even bigger opportunity, and a chance to learn from their mistakes, this gang of venal little pimps decided to give the shoot-yourself-first-and-ask-questions-later strategy another chance instead.

The results were predictable, at least to everyone else: Peer-to-peer music trading today probably involves more people and more music than ever before. What's more, thanks to an inventive and constantly evolving array of P2P tools, almost all of this activity now takes place underground. Lawsuits don't stop this sort of evolution — they accelerate it.

And yet, in spite of this high-powered idiocy, most people sooner or later do the right thing. New and improved music providers are learning how to meet them halfway, offering reasonable services at sensible prices. At this rate, the industry will someday get where it could have been five years ago: making fortunes for people whose secretaries print their e-mail for them every morning.

Matt McKenzie is Editor of Linux Pipeline.

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