Exclusive A tiny European software company has done what the giants of the consumer electronics industry daren't do - and put a potential Napster in every pocket.
Simeda, based in Bucharest, has ported Rendezvous to the Pocket PC platform and bundled it with a web server. The software automatically discovers other devices on a WiFi network and allows people to stream or share music with just a couple of clicks. Simeda's CTO Razvan Dragomirescu tells us that the inspiration came from a series of speculative articles that ran here at The Register eighteen months ago in which we envisaged an Apple iPod enhanced with Bluetooth and Rendezvous, which is Apple's trademark for the ZeroConf LAN discovery protocol. We nicknamed this 'BluePod'.
Razvan says that after being inspired by the idea, he set about examining various implementations. He chose 802.11 networking because of its speed and range advantages. Given the overheads of the protocol, Bluetooth devices typically exchange data at only around 20 kbits/s.
"All you need is an XDA with a WiFi card - just turn it on and they'll discover each other. Click on the name of the device and you get a list of MP3s, and you can start streaming."
But developing it wasn't trivial. Dragomirescu modified a .NET version of a DNS library written in C# for the client, adding multicast DNS, and then wrote a version of the responder in C# from scratch.
But it isn't just for sharing music. Pocket Rendezvous allows Pocket PC holders to browse whatever you want to reveal on your portable web server. (Simeda has a dating service that runs on Symbian mobile phones). Users can assign an icon, or 'avatar' to a published service. Razvan told us that the software, provisionally called "Pocket Rendezvous" (although given trademark considerations, this might not be the final name) will be released on June 16 in two versions: a free basic version and a pay-for package that can join corporate networks and advertise multiple services.
A Symbian version may take some time. Although Simeda sells the very clever "cheating spouse" software SounderCover for Series 60 phones (which creates background sound effects so you can pretend you're actually on a train, or at the beach) Dragomirescu points out that a Symbian version means writing to new APIs. (There's no .NET API for SymbianOS at the time of writing).
One man banned
So how could one developer succeed where the industry's giants have so far failed? The answer appears to be more political than technical. Although manufacturers have marketed wireless-enabled hard drives, these don't play or stream music. And WiFi enabled music players are on the market, but the wireless link is used for synchronizing the music collection with a host PC, rather than doing what music was created for, and sharing. And for this, you've got the 1998 Congress to thank. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act prevents the marketing of a device whose primary purpose is copyright circumvention. Apple's uniquely close relationship with the music industry makes it even more unlikely that the iPod pioneer will permit promiscuous file exchanges: Apple needs the labels' content. The Cupertino company will one day equip its computers and handhelds with 'Wireless Firewire' after the IEEE approved a protocol layer for Firewire over 802.15.3 networking - and this is specifically designed for audio streaming.
However it isn't difficult to envisage a regulatory tweak that could benefit everyone. By removing the penalties for sharing music and compensating the artists from a single fund, both device manufacturers like Apple, and network operators (who could use a tonic, now that the WiFi Bubble has burst) would find themselves in the enviable position of not being able to produce equipment fast enough. Once everyone has BluePod capability on a personal device, do you think the record labels will have a choice? ®
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