Napster Goes Legit

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Everybody's favorite pirate has turned privateer. When Napster signed a deal with Bertelsmann in October, a condition of the agreement was that Napster would move to a fee-based service. Recently, this agreement became a reality as Bertelsmann chairman Thomas Middlehoff announced that Napster will charge users a monthly fee beginning in June or July. Neither a firm date nor a price has been decided on yet.

But just because the peer-to-peer file sharing company has gone above-board doesn't mean that you need to retire your cutlass and eyepatch just yet. By using Macigator or Mapigator, users can circumvent Napster servers, while still using Napster's software to connect with millions of other would-be pirates on alternative OpenNap servers.

Napster works by connecting users over centralized Napster servers. When users launch the Napster software, it automatically connects them to one of Napster's many servers. Once connected, users can browse the files of thousands of other users connected to the same server. When one user downloads a file from another, the transfer takes place directly between the two users, rather than from the Napster server that connects them. When users log on with Macigator, the Napster client software works in exactly the same way, but users have the option of connecting to whichever Napster server they choose, or an OpenNap server instead.

OpenNap servers work almost identically to Napster servers with one critical exception: there is no central administration. Anyone can set up an OpenNap server. These open-source servers are completely independent of Napster's servers, and thus are not bound to honor any of the agreements Napster has entered into. In other words, once Napster starts charging, you can still trade MP3s for free over OpenNap servers by using an application like Macigator.

"Macigator will allow you to totally get around the entire Napster network," says Austin Heap, one of the program's two teenage developers. The software works by listing all the available Napster and OpenNap servers, and allowing users to connect directly with any of them. Once a user selects a server, Macigator launches the default peer-to-peer client, which connects just as it would on a standard Napster server.

Macigator and Mapigator work with any peer-to-peer MP3 client such as Rapster, MP3 Rage, and the current builds of Napster and Macster. In addition, Heap says that OpenNap servers offer increased privacy from the many snoopers on Napster's servers. Obviously, when you're engaging in piracy, privacy is fairly essential.

Shawn Fanning may be in his twenties now, and the company he founded is trying to make like Michael Corleone in The Godfater Part III and go legit. But because of the efforts of resourceful teenagers such as Heap, who is sixteen, and his 15-year-old partner, Brian Dyttmer, information will still be free. Or at least MP3s will be.

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