In Praise of Bittorrent

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A few weeks ago, we at Macworld announced our annual Editor's Choice Awards, honoring our favorite products of the past year. As usual, there were minor uproars here and there from various groups who didn't understand the Eddy process or didn't agree with our choices.

Hey, that's fine. The Eddy Awards are about as subjective as it gets. As we like to say, they're a "survey of editorial preference." Basically, the editors pick what they like. Everyone with an opinion, an interest, or a blog is free to disagree. (One blog, for example, took us to task for awarding QuarkXPress 6.5 but not InDesign, not understanding that the Eddy Awards is limited to products released in a single year -- and InDesign CS didn't come out last year, but the year before.)

The biggest surprise to me this year, though, was the complete lack of uproar over one product we gave an Eddy Award to: BitTorrent. Created by Bram Cohen and stylishly brought to the Mac by Andrew Loewenstern, BitTorrent was recently in the news, and not in a good way. That's because BitTorrent is, at the moment, the top method for pirates to illegally share movies, music, and software on the Internet.

So why did Macworld give an Eddy award to a product championed by pirates? Not because we endorse piracy, but because we endorse innovative technologies. And BitTorrent is one of the most clever technologies we've seen in recent years.

BitTorrent works by making a server out of everyone who's downloading a file. The end result is that people who are distributing files don't get crushed under massive server loads or high bandwidth charges from their service providers, and users get relatively speedy downloads because they're transferring data from several of their fellow users simultaneously.

Everyone who offers downloads of large files should offer BitTorrent as a file-transfer option. Game companies already use it for distribution of gigantic game files to beta testers; software developers really should look into it as a way to distribute large update files far and wide. Hollywood could even take advantage of the concepts behind BitTorrent to enable legitimate distribution of movies and TV shows on the net.

Yes, right now BitTorrent is largely being used for illicit purposes. But that didn't stop us from recognizing it as not only a fantastic technology with plenty of legitimate uses, but as an easy to use Mac OS X program. Here's hoping that BitTorrent lives a long life, and grows into a tool that's used mostly by the mainstream, and not by the shadowy underworld of movie, music, and software pirates.

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