July 7, 2005 2:14 PM PDT

Browsers add BitTorrent support

Norwegian Web browser company Opera released a new test version of its software Thursday that supports the BitTorrent peer-to-peer technology, one of the most popular tools in the file-swapping world.

Not far behind is an independent project aimed at providing BitTorrent support for the widely used Mozilla Firefox Web browser, although that has yet to release software publicly.

Taken together, the two projects provide a powerful step toward legitimacy for a technology that has been tarnished somewhat by its association with copyright piracy, but which is increasingly being used for wholly legal purposes.

"BitTorrent has been on our radar for some while, and when we looked at the protocol, we found that was a very good way of downloading files," said Christen Krogh, Opera vice president of engineering. "We consider it a natural extension of other download mechanisms."

The move into browsers, even without Microsoft's Internet Explorer, could accelerate BitTorrent's role as a de facto technology for distributing large files online.

Indeed, it was the addition of support inside the browser that helped technologies such as Macromedia's Flash become standard Web tools, rather than one of dozens or hundreds of plug-ins competing for surfers' and developers' attention.

The open-source BitTorrent technology was created by independent developer Bram Cohen in 2002, and has quickly risen to the top of the file-sharing world. Unlike Kazaa, eDonkey or other file-swapping networks, it does not allow searching other people's hard drives in order to find and download files.

Instead, it is primarily a file-download technology such as the venerable FTP (File Transfer Protocol). Rather than drawing files solely from one source, it connects the computers of numerous people who want the same file, allowing a computer that has already downloaded pieces of the file to automatically begin distributing those pieces to others.

That "swarming" mechanism, as it is known by programmers, allows files to be downloaded much more quickly than if there were a single source for the file. Red Hat Software has used the technology to distribute large files such as the Linux operating system to its customers.

Opera's support for BitTorrent is still in the "technical preview" stages, and the company is not providing a hard date for when it will be added to its core software. The company said that it has no legal concerns about the new software, despite the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling against file-swapping companies.

"We're the good guys," Krogh said. "We are in no way encouraging people to illegally download material."

In an e-mail, independent Mozilla developer Kevin Stock said that the "MozTorrent" plug-in for Firefox was still in the "planning stages," but that developers expect the project to move quickly toward release once they finish building a user interface.

Reaching most consumers will ultimately require support from Microsoft, whose Internet Explorer retains nearly 90 percent of the browser market share, according to Web measurement and marketing company WebSideStory. Firefox's early rapid growth has slowed somewhat, leaving it at about 7 percent, WebSideStory recently said, while Opera's market share remains tiny.

Microsoft is in the early stages of building its own BitTorrent-like file download technology called Avalanche, which was unveiled by the company's Cambridge, England, research team last month.

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"Browsers add"?
This made me laugh. Opera adds a new feature to its browser, and CNet posts a story "Browsers add Bittorrent support."

Not "Opera adds Bittorrent support" but "Browsers add Bittorrent support."

Sure, once you read the article you see that Opera has as working program TODAY and Mozilla is "planning one", but the headline makes them equal.

I know folks are enamored with Firefox, and I think it's a great browser too, but would it have killed you to recognize and give recognition to Opera for being the first one to make it available? Instead of a story about Opera's continued innovation, we get "Opera and Firefox".

It's not a story about Opera and Firefox. The story is that Opera has added yet another great and useful feature which will be available to users who download and install their browser (which still comes in significantly smaller than FIrefox, even thought it has a Bittorrent, Email, RSS, Usenet, and IRC client built in.
Posted by (7 comments )
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Not quite correct
The story clearly states that "Opera's support for BitTorrent is still in the 'technical preview' stages, and the company is not providing a hard date for when it will be added to its core software." This sounds to me like it is in alpha testing.

Firefox will have BitTorrent available as an optional extension. This sounds preferable since it does not force me to have a BitTorrent client that I may not like. I am not so sure I like the idea of a BitTorrent client built-in to the browser anyway.

Furthermore, it should be pointed out that Opera is not free. The code for the browser is proprietary and the browser costs $39 (seems pretty steep to me). I do realize that there is an advertisement-supported version, but why waste screen real-estate and bandwidth on this when Firefox is completely free and actually offers free tools to block annoying advertising?

I don't mean to flame Opera. I realize that they are a company looking to make a profit and I do appreciate that they are offering another choice in browser technology, however, I do not think that this will ever become a popular choice for the desktop in its current form.
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
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I think the story title should be changed.
To "Browsers to add bitorrent support", yes Opera has added bitorrent support as a technical preview, but it isnt for certain if it is implemented into 8.02 final yet, plus the planned extension is uncertain as nothing is released yet.
Posted by shoust (1 comment )
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Why?
Why would you add BitTorrent support to the
browser? Sure, it would save the trouble of
downloading a BT client, but at the cost of using
your browser as the client (several megabyte
browser versus a dedicated client that's 1/5000th
the size).

Surely, simply mapping the approriate mime-type
for the torrent file in your system ought to make
it just as easy to use. Heck, just put a JNLP
link to Azureus on your site. Once the app is in
the cache, you're good.
Posted by Gleeplewinky (289 comments )
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