Napster : Java Glossary

I have left this tombstone entry for historical interest.
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LOGO Napster
A defunct website that was giving the recording industry nightmares. The recording industry shut it down. It reopened with safeguards to ensure it does not exchange copyrighted music and with royalty payments for downloads. It also has an instant messaging service. Then it shut down again.


Originally Napster allowed people to swap collections of music in MP3 compressed digital format. The Napster site provided a giant index to everyone’s collections. You selected the music you wanted and it downloaded directly from a person who had it and who was currently on line. All kinds of stuff was in there, including the obscure stuff from your youth you would never find in a record store. Even Mike Nichols’ and Elaine May’s comedy sketches were in there.

I have seen portable MP3 music players for sale for about $150.00 USD , that are like solid state CD (Compact Disc) ’s you can download with 30 minutes worth of music. There are also portable players for MP3 format CD s, e.g. 8-12 hours of music on one CD for $115.00 USD .

Napster was in legal trouble as you might expect because most of the material being shared is copyrighted. However, it also provided an inexpensive forum for new groups to become known.

Napster’s search engine was not too bright. You had to get the spelling of the artist and title precisely correct. In case people filed songs under incorrect spellings, check those too. Napster would give you dozens of duplicates rather than automatically choosing the fastest source or most desirable compression ratio. Songs were not filed by the original CD serial number/track or the official song title burned into the original CD, so it is hit and miss just what names songs are filed under. It could pay to disconnect and re-search at a later time. You may get on a different server with a different collection of other people. You can’t search the collections of people who are not currently on line.

When you pick a source, choose a T1 or Cable (green dot). These people are unlikely to disconnect part way through your download. People with 56K modems (yellow dot) are quite likely to hang up at any minute. There are some people who will deliberately disconnect you. They want to collect but are unwilling to share. People are usually not fully aware of you downloading from their machine, though they could check if they wanted to. Napster is currently not smart enough to know how to resume the download from a different source of the same file after a disconnect. The technology is pretty flaky. You have a high chance of the transfer aborting part way through particulaly if you have a modem connection.

MP3 files are about twelve times as compact as normal audio CDs. Songs can be encoded in roughly a megabyte per minute of play time. This means you can put ten times as many songs on a CD if you use MP3 format. They won’t play in an ordinary CD player, however. A typical song is 3 to 6 megabytes. A typical hard disk is 8 gigabytes, i.e. 8000 megabytes, room enough for about 2000 songs or 130 hours. You can back them up to CD. Each CD holds 600 MB, room for about 150 songs or 10 hours in MP3 format. To convert traditional audio CDs (Compact Discs) to MP3 format use a program called Simple. It lets you interconvert CD, wav and MP3 formats. The process of creating MP3 format files is called ripping.

How do you create a jukebox to play a long list of MP3 songs you have collected from Napster? There are three main choices:

  1. Real Audio Jukebox

    $30.00 USD , also a free version. Its main function is downloading songs into portable MP3 players. It requires a 300 MHz or higher speed CPU (Central Processing Unit) to work. It automatically tries to play any CD you put in your CD drive. This can interfere with data autorun. Real Audio products tend to be presumptuous, installing themselves without permission and using up great hunks of CPU time even when you are not using them and shoving ads down your throat at every opportunity. This company started out great and has become more obnoxious with every passing year.
  2. Winamp

    Free plug-in. popular with the young crowd because you can decorate it with custom skins to change the look. It can play many different formats including mp3, voc, wav, midi, mp2 and cda. It will do loops and random shuffling. It has a built-in equaliser so you can fine tune the sound. It has a built-in browser which is set up with some popular online cd stores, so when you play a song, it looks the id3 tag up on the Internet and tells you where you can buy cds that have that song. You can cook up playlists and save them by name. Winamp will also convert to wav files for creating standard CDs.
  3. Napster

    Was Free. Napster itself had a built-in juke box. Under the library tab, you can play mp3s by double clicking on them, or you can highlight a group of them, right click and say add to play list, then when you tell the first song in the playlist to play, it will go through all of them. It also has a loop and random functions.
You can also create traditional audio CDs from your MP3 collections. You must first convert to wav format, then burn a CD with Roxio (née Adaptec) Easy CD Creator. The CD burning software will accept tracks direct from various audio CDs or wav files, but not MP3 files directly.

There should also be playlists you can exchange with others. You would feed the playlist to Napster and it would automatically collect all the songs in the playlist for you. It would also be nice if a failed search were put on hold for a week. If the song appeared, you would get an email telling you to get online quickly.

What do you do if you don’t know the artist or song title, just snatches of lyrics? Try these sites:

Website Notes
Gigabeat gigaspirals help you find similar songs.
Gracenote Large database to search by song title, album title or artist, but not by lyrics.
LyricFind Search by phrase or scattered words.
Song Text Large database to search by song title, album title or artist, but ironically not by lyrics.
LyricsSearch Shows only ten hits at a time. Slower than others, but better matches.
LyricsWorld Web search engine to MP3s. Lyrics only.
Ohhla Hip Hop lyrics
UBLUltimate Band List
Webcrawler Search with artist’s name plus lyrics.
One final warning, the exchanging of copyrighted materials for commercial purposes is illegal and doing it for non-commercial purposes is a legal grey area. You might get a nasty letter from one of the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) lawyers, or, ironically, from Napster itself.

Generalising Napster

A unified, distibuted, general purpose, Napster-like, file delivery scheme for sending anything, files, software, pornography, updates, deltas, web pages, email, newsgroup postings, music, video… would scale incredibly well and work astoundingly fast even with the flakiest home computers if:
  1. Files were digitally signed so you can be sure they have not been tampered with. Most traffic would also need to be encrypted.
  2. You need some reasonable but not necessarily perfect scheme to help you find places where the file you want is cached. Napster did this fairly well. Napster’s clever design ensured that the most popular files were also the most widely available in cache to be served. Its problem was it did not have unique names or unique id numbers for files which left it up to humans to scan lists looking for a suitable place to download. That could be fully automated.
  3. You need some sort of central, very well controlled, scheme to tell you what the id of the most up to date version of any file is. Napster had nothing like this.
  4. You also need a well controlled notification system for letting people know that certain files (e.g. emails) exist ready to be picked up off the general Internet with the given laundry ticket. You never send files, just laundry tickets to pick them up. Napster had nothing like this either. Email and newsgroups suffer from lack of reliable notification. You are forever losing messages. Even Fedex or the post office can track a parcel for you and guarantee delivery with a signed receipt. Analogous features should be routine for electronic delivery of files and email.
  5. Your download software should be able to try several sources simultaneously and home in the most successful, speediest ones. It makes sense to share the burden of any given download over many sources. This way even slow sources can still contribute to the general workload. It is so foolish to wait hours for a file to download because the source is slower than the target. The whole process could be speeded up using multiple sources.
  6. You should never have to start over just because some source was flaky. We need SAX-like protocols that don’t waste even so much as a byte that they manage to glean before a disconnect. They just keep picking up where they left off with same or other servers.
  7. You want to get serious about compression and never transmit anything unless you have squeezed the heck out of it. Further, you should only send changes. The inept existing MIME-encoded email messages do the very opposite of compression, engorging them into Monsieur Creosote impersonations.
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  8. Eventually you will want background predictive caching so that the messages and files wanted are already nearby where they will be wanted. We have seen that Napster was able to do very well without any such cleverness.
  9. We need more audience participation. You should have the ability to play DJ, compose voice intros to your favourite songs and pass them along. You should be able to write critiques and discumentaries of songs comparing versions etc and register these centrally where everyone can find them. You should be able to create playlists and share them just as you would individual pieces. You should be able to submit artwork for individual songs and groups of songs and synchronised background visuals.

Napster In Legal Hot Water

It turned out I was right when I predicted Napster’s days were limited. If Napster were to prevail, it would depend on music CD buyers without computers subsidising those that do. It is ridiculous to expect artists to create new CDs when they can only sell one copy, which is what will happen as Napster clones become ever more popular. I have devised a student project to create a new Napster that also handles the distribution of commercial music.

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