Morpheus is not the probem; KaZaA is the problem

The frustration of many of us who use Morpheus when, beginning Monday night, increasing numbers were unable to log in, has mostly been viewed as a mess-up by MusicCity/StreamCast Networks, the parent website/company of Morpheus. This is not the case.

To understand what is going on, it is important to realize that there really aren’t three different programs (Morpheus, KaZaA, Grokster) but one core program from a Dutch company. To this core, different “skins” and different pointers to ad servers and the home page of the sponsoring group have been added. Largely decorative elements not essential at all to core functionality is what differentiates one from the other.

The original one was KaZaA, which was based on the technology of FastTrack, a small Dutch software house also known as Consumer Empowerment. FT/CE created KaZaA as its consumer arm. The same small group ran both.

From the beginning FT/CE wanted to run a way-cooler-than-Napster file sharing service but one that would operate with a suitable legal framework, i.e., licenses. It repeatedly, and unavailingly sought agreements with the music mafia monopolies. As a gesture of good faith, it configured KaZaA to not present MP3 search results of files encoded at more than 128kbs.

Hit by a lawsuit by something akin to a Dutch equivalent to the RIAA, FastTrack/KaZaA was ordered to shut down file sharing on its network at the end of November; the company explained that it was unable to do so due to the architecture of the network; and was then threatened with $30,000/day fines for every day it refused to do so.

It was days away from a court hearing/day or reckoning when suddenly, over a weekend in January, the original founders of KaZaA announced they had sold most of its assets to Sharman Networks. The announcement was very short on details. ONE detail however that eventually did come out –it is placed very prominently on the home page of the KaZaA web site– is that the original developers of the FastTrack technology no longer have anything to do with this project and the new owners now control the further development of the program.

It is a highly unusual announcement, a monstrously successful technology platform goes out of its way to PROUDLY BOAST that the people that brought you this way cool breakthrough platform no longer have anything to do with it. Why would you BOAST that you have lost the development team of such a smashing success???

My *suspicion* is that the original team INSISTED it be made clear they are in no way responsible for what THIS new outfit is doing, and Sharman networks is just trying to put a positive “spin” on what is essentially a statement disowning KaZaA.

It is these new owners, and this new development team, that less than a month after the takeover of KaZaA announce THEY have a significant new upgrade to the program and begin distributing it publicly on Feb. 11.

Like previous upgrades, this one is spread “virally,” i.e., upon coming into contact with an upgraded supernode, a 1.3.3 version of the same “brand” of the program is asked to upgrade to the new version. The upgrade executable is kept on every upgraded user’s computer, which makes it fast and easy to replicate a code change.

There were no incompatibilities between the 1.5 client and the 1.3.3 versions reported for two weeks. The two different versions apparently interoperated well, even though the majority of the base of the network, people using Morpheus, weren’t upgrading as there was no upgrade available for the Morpheus-branded product.

Then the evening of the 25th, out of the blue, Morpheus users started to be locked out of the FastTrack network with the message about their software being too old. Go to the newsgroups and check out the posts. The first ones are Monday evening, and immediately there are “me too” replies. IT WAS A PLANNED, COORDINATED, AND SIMULTANEOUSLY EXECUTED ATTACK.

It did not his EVERY Morpheus user at once because of the nature of the network, many Morpheus users were connected to the overall network through Morpheus supernodes. Over a couple of days, as fewer and fewer Morpheus supernodes survived, more and more Morpheus users were locked out.

The existence of two auxiliary upgrade files offered by Grokster is damning evidence that this was a carefully planned purge of the morpheus client. One deletes Morpheus settings from your registry. The other deletes your old list of supernodes, replacing it with a new list. Upgrade instructions for Grokster, which seems to simply be a stalking horse for KaZaA/Sharman, tell users to uninstall the previous versions of the three programs AND run these two files.

Why? For a long time I had ALL THREE installed. I did not see any issues. But it sure is an effective way of driving any Morpheus clients from the networks.

Now, the grokster tech support people, who for once have been quite active, insist the fault lies with MusicCity/Morpheus for not going along with the upgrade.

But MusicCity says it has no such upgrade available for a very good reason: it wasn’t told about it, nor was it offered a software upgrade. As a licensee, it takes the fasttrack technology as is, in a black box, so to speak, and merely puts its own wrapper on it. The head of MusicCity says he isn’t even sure who controls FastTrack technology now.

Moreover, MusicCity confirms that the “you must upgrade” diktat isn’t coming from them. That being the case, it MUST be coming from KaZaA through their new 1.5 client acting as supernodes. There is simply nowhere else for such a widespread message to originate: either it comes from the MusicCity logon server, or the supernodes.

I tend to believe the statements by the head of Music City, if for no other reason than KaZaA/Sharman is not talking to the press. They won’t answer emails, even from their special email address from press inquiries, even when the email came straight from the domain of one of the world’s best-known and most prestigious news organizations. They have no phone or physical address that anyone can figure out. Their own website is nonexistent but the domain registered by some fairly low-level employee of this “brilliant digital” outfit.

Given everything that’s been going on this week, you’d think they would have said SOMETHING. If the purge had been accidental, or if they had a leg to stand on in blaming music city for the situation, they would have said something. Their silence condemns them. In the court of public opinion, on an issue like this, there is no fifth amendment.

There’s no Sharman statement because this wasn’t an accidental, or even foreseen but unavoidable result of the advance of the technology. This was planned, premeditated, with malice aforethought.

I stress that there is no inherent conflict in the two technologies, and if there were, we can assume by now KaZaA would have made it public to explain what is going on. And I do not believe there has been the slightest change in the core technology at all: you do not learn, as a programmer, how a complicated code base like KaZaA works in three weeks, and you CERTAINLY aren’t ready to release to MILLIONS of users a change in the way the core of the program works in that short a time, and MORESO without the help of the original programmers.

The capacity to lock out older clients was, unfortunately, already built into the FastTrack code base. It was used in the fall to do the upgrade to version 1.3, to fix the “security” issue, which, as not many people know, was simply that an independent team had reversed engineered the technology, what FastTrack used to call its “peer to peer stack,” and was ready to go public with it. The 1.3 version of the technology was evidently done in a hurry, as it required a couple of 1.3.X revisions to fix bugs, and the truth is the PREVIOUS versions worked better.

I’m willing to bet what the new development team changed in version 1.5 was the revision number and perhaps a typo or two and the copyright notice. I suspect they turned off the super nodes’ capacity to log on clients directly, so that people MUST go through a central server that, it turn, unleashes some ad server on them. At least I suspect so, because I don’t see any johndoe@?????, which, it is believed, is how users who bypassed the logon servers were identified. And whatever code already existed in the program to spread upgrades and eventually shut out previous versions was turned on. Those are all the changes.

So the truth is that Morpheus users were locked out by supernodes running version 1.5 of the client software. They were locked out by decision, not by inherent interoperability problems, unexpected clashes, software bugs or anything else like that.

That decision came from Sharman Networks, and if ever a corporation deserved the adjective “shadowy” this must be it. Another person here has detailed the results of an investigation into Sharman, and everything seems to point to is being a front for or associated with brilliant digital. And who is brilliant digital? Go to their web site and have a look around.

Look closely, for example, at the biography of their executive team. Takeover. Buyout. Management buyout. Sale. Again and again and again. The CEO does not boast of the way cool products he shepherded to market, the insanely great companies he built, the technology awards his people garnered. The bio reads like the typical rap sheet of a vulture capitalist.

Look at their products. What do they produce? Tools for adware, spyware, snitchware. Look at their “piracy” policy. In addition to making all sorts of outrageous claims that have no support in law, like the typical LIE that their product is “licensed” not “sold” (a lie because the law regulates these sorts of contracts; a purchase sale contract is what is involved in over-the-counter retail boxed software purchases, no number of statements by one side can change it); they also explicitly PROMISE to load your computer down with spyware and snitchware and cooperate with the Microsoft stooges from the Business Software Alliance in getting you reamed.

And the question naturally arises: WHAT are people associated with such an outfit and such extreme views doing buying control over the leading p2p file-sharing network and its technology?

And why are they doing EVERYTHING in their power to DRIVE OUT the largest of the companies associated with the network, even at the cost of losing MILLIONS of users?

What is it that they have planned that requires that MusicCity be out of the picture?

Given the silence of Sharman, the extreme and peculiar way they have approached the beginning of their ownership of KaZaA, the precarious state of the company given the legal threat hanging over it at the time of purchase, the statement conveying the message from KaZaA’s founders dissociating themselves from this current outfit; the links to brilliant digital; the nature and character of brilliant digital management, products, and statements; I think the file sharing community must become extremely alarmed.

I do not think it can be excluded at this point that KaZaA is being turned into, in effect, a trojan horse controlled by the corporate cartels and the monopoly mafias. Will future versions of the software report back to the RIAA and the Business Software Alliance what you’re sharing and downloading? What is the relationship between sharman and brilliant digital? How much did they pay for KaZaA? And … whatever did happen to the lawsuit that was potentially going to bankrupt KaZaA in a matter of days?

I have, alas, no real answers, but answers are required. – jaquero