Thursday, April 19, 2007

A Torrent of Trouble

I use computers. I've been tinkering with them for decades. Practically all of the new software and utilities interest me. I'm always looking out for new and better ways to do things on computers. Among these tools were a couple of BitTorrent clients. The hype is fantastic -- an easy, distributed, efficient way to download large files. Unfortunately, it's all been hype for me.

The P2P philosophy is easy to understand. Rather than a million people trying to download one file and overloading the server, you have a few downloading pieces of the file and then, in a distributed way, sharing them with each other until the whole file is assembled, and at the same time, sharing their pieces with latecomers wanting the same file.

Unfortunately, it doesn't work. At least not with me. I have two major problems.

One, I'm rarely on a high speed network. The overhead of co-ordinating this massive connection list is much less efficient than a simple one-on-one download. Plus, it appears that the bookkeeping aspects of the bittorrent protocol are prejudiced against slow connections and high-latency satellite links. Even if the file is out there, the software puts me always on the bottom of the priority list.

Two, bittorrent is horrible with long-tail files. It only works well if there are thousands of other people trying to download the same file at the same time. It's popular with people trying to get this week's TV show or the hottest music file. But the files I'm interested in are very low volume. A file might be out there on a server somewhere, but I may be the only person trying to download it. A simple FTP or HTTP download might give it to me in a few minutes, but bittorrent is just a fruitless exercise in frustration.

So, I'm not too upset when I read an article about the police cracking down on pirate bittorrent sites. I haven't gotten a single file via a torrent in over a year. It was too much frustration. I'll stick to simple reliable servers for now.

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