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Brilliant backs grid model to solve financial woes

Software that will set up a network built from users' hard drives and bandwidth has been bundled into the Kazaa file-sharing program owned by Australian holding company Sharman Networks.

Los Angeles advertising software and design company Brilliant Digital Entertainment plans to use the Altnet network software that is bundled with Kazaa to build a distributed supercomputer for tasks such as weather-mapping and genome-cracking. It also plans to use the network as an alternative file-serving system for Internet ads or other content.

People downloading Kazaa for file trading may not realise that they have also downloaded the Digital Projector media player from Brilliant. Digital Projector is necessary to play Brilliant's 3D promotions and advertisements for music. Along with a piece of software called Altnet Secureinstall, the media player also makes up the platform for the Altnet network, according to Brilliant. Both are distributed as part of the software bundle for file-sharing programs such as Kazaa and StreamCast Networks's Morpheus.

Users often skip reading the terms of service when installing software, and most people probably don't know that they have installed Brilliant's software when they set up Kazaa on their PCs, Brilliant chief executive Kevin Burmeister said.

The terms of service for using Brilliant's software, which must be agreed to for installation, grant Brilliant "the right to access and use the unused computing power and storage space on your computer/s and/or Internet access or bandwidth for the aggregation of content and distributed computing," without the right of compensation.

"Before it's activated, there will be full disclosure," Burmeister said. "In the interest of full disclosure, it will spawn a [terms of service] window allowing people to opt in."

Perhaps surprisingly, Brilliant plans to incorporate digital rights management from Microsoft into its separate network, allowing antipiracy technology to sail into home computers in the wake of Kazaa, a program the music and film industry considers a piracy threat.

"End users that propagate their own content using Kazaa won't be affected," by the digital rights management software, Burmeister said. The digital rights management software will be used to build a system for micropayments through Altnet, allowing content owners to get paid a small amount each time their property is distributed through the network.

Users will also be compensated for their participation in Altnet, but the company hasn't yet figured out how, he said. "It will be incentive-based," Burmeister said, noting that it will be more compensation than simply being allowed to continue file-sharing with Kazaa.

The question of compensation is key to the ultimate success or failure of Brilliant's plan.

Brilliant has recently been struggling financially, warning investors in its annual report filed at the beginning of this week that without a quick boost in revenue, the company may have to cease operations.

Free services looking to radical solutions to boost revenue haven't fared well with approaches such as advertising-supported Internet access, pay-to-surf Web sites, and distributed computing.

Ad-supported Internet service provider Juno Online Services. turned to the idea of using its subscribers' computers for distributed computing when the advertising market disintegrated in 2001.

Juno altered its terms of service to incorporate the distributed computing initiative in February 2001, potentially requiring its free subscribers to leave their computers on at all times, and for their computers to automatically dial in to Juno's servers in order to deposit processed data. Though voluntary, Juno's plan proved unpopular and was never implemented.

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