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Wenesday, March 6 12:01 AM EST

Future of File-Swapping
More Uncertain Than Ever

By Wil Wheaton

Cupertino, CA - The Shazbot cafe on Allen street is a very popular hangout for young cyber-enthusiasts. It is a normally happy place, where young men and women, ranging in age from teens to early twenties, gather daily, to drink coffee, play games on the 24-computer LAN, and listen to popular music.

However, today is not a normal day. The occupants of this former Licorice Pizza, the only active business in an otherwise empty strip mall, are very angry today, and they're making sure that everyone knows about it.

The object of their anger? The popular file-swapping program "Morpheus". Morpheus, which allows users to trade music, video files, images, and even software, was until recently one of the most popular file-swapping services in the post-Napster era. Last week, though, that all changed when Dutch company and service rival "Kazaa" effectively shut down Morpheus. For one long week, users hung in limbo, the future of their file-swapping suddenly uncertain.

"It was, like, really scary," a youth going by the handle "R0xx5aR" told me. "I mean, back when Napster went down, me and my bros thought that we'd have to, like, buy CDs, or something. But then we discovered Morpheus, and it was, like, so cool."

The long week passed, however, and Morpheus was reborn. Like a Phoenix, Morpheus came back, using the popular Gnutella network. The community rejoiced, but their excitement was quickly muted.

A young woman dressed in Capri pants and a midriff-revealing T-shirt reading "I like Dorks" declared, "Okay, so the thing is, I was like totally into Napster. I must have gotten like five hundred records from that, okay? And then, like, some greedy jerks took it away, and I started using Morpheus, and now Morpheus is all sucky. What am I supposed to do?" She asked, her voice rising.

"What about my rights? Am I supposed to just go to WalMart and buy CDs? Do you have any idea how expensive that is going to be? I mean, if I actually went out and bought this CD," she continued, holding aloft a CD-R with the word "Weezer" and some hearts and flowers written on it in black ink pen. "Then I totally couldn't have afforded to get this tattoo on spring break." She then revealed the tattoo in question: a blue mushroom, just above her tailbone.

"This is fuxx0red!" announced 20 year old college student Lascar, his attention focused on an Internet game called Counter-Strike. "I mean, we should boycott Morpheus because-- FUCKING CAMPERS! SHIT!"

The future of file-swapping is uncertain, with users shying away from similar products like Audiogalaxy and BearShare, complaining that they contain software called "Spyware". A man in his late 20s, calling himself "Bootie" said, "I installed BearShare, because I wanted to get the new Alien Ant Farm album, you know? And while I'm getting ready to burn it, I notice that my Internet connection is sending all sorts of information out to some server somewhere. So I get online, and I find out that BearShare has installed all this Spyware on my machine! I mean, I just wanted to install BearShare to get free music, and it goes and installs Spyware? That should be illegal!"

The general feeling here, though, was that somehow Truth and Justice would indeed prevail, and some new file-swapping service would fill the void left by the apparent demise of Morpheus.

"Hey, those idiots at Morpheus had a chance, and they blew it, just like the idiots at Napster and all the other idiots," The user known as Bootie said later, smoking a clove cigarette, "If these guys don't get with the program, and I mean fast, they're going to find out that we're just going to buy CDs instead of downloading them. Then what will they do?"

That is the question on the industry's mind. The answer, however, remains a mystery.

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