ZeroPaid Interviews an Operator of WinMXWorld

Things have been interesting for the last year or two for WinMX users.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

It’s been tricky following what has been happening with WinMX these days, so ZeroPaid caught up with Tigger of WinMX to, among other things, see what is happening in the world of WinMX.

Last week, ZeroPaid reported on an interesting development occurring in France where a study was done to see how successful various ISP-level filtering were at filtering out P2P traffic. The results were described as many things including, “not perfect”

The study focused on a wide variety of P2P protocols in use today. One of these protocols includes WinMX. For the most part, it appeared as though WinMX was quite successful at dodging the two most well known filters. So discuss this and many other things happening in WinMX today, we turned to Tigger of WinMXWorld for an interesting interview.

ZeroPaid: First of all, who are you and what do you do?

Tigger: I’m a mum and part time student. I have been active in the WinMX p2p community for many years, helping users to enjoy WinMX. I currently operate the winmxworld help site with a group of like-minded users.

ZP: WinMX has had a colorful history, but it seems to me that there was a study released that touched on how well ISP P2P filters do. The statistics may surprise some. They suggest that the two filters that were tested show 7% and 0% detection efficiency. There was a regulation test that showed at 25% regulation, WinMX was only filtered out at 19% and 0%, then at 75% regulation, there was nothing but a pair of bagels on the board. Positively speaking, this seems to show that even the “old WinMX client” seems to dodge the filters unlike something like BitTorrent. Negatively speaking, it may show that the protocol is unpopular enough for filtering companies to not really focus on the network. Either way, it sounds like it’s good news for users who use the network in terms of filtering avoidance. How do you interpret the results?

T: I’m inclined to agree with your analysis on the Evolution Internet report. Whilst I’m sure some ISP companies don’t view WinMX as a major bandwidth consumer, many have been taking active steps to disrupt file transfers. In general the trend seems to be that some ISP’s are more active than others where WinMX is concerned. The report was good news for many users facing what amounts to an unfair penalty on using a service they have contracted into.

I would at this point like to explain the network architectural model, as many have no idea of what WinMX looks like mapped out on paper.

Most p2p users are familiar with the client/server model. This is utilised for the low bandwidth “secondary ” clients akin to Napster. Where WinMX differs from that basic model is the inclusion of a decentralised “primary” backbone. The “primary” backbone communicates chat room listings and search queries over a completely separate network utilising a different protocol. This is likely part of the reason WinMX is not a simple cut and dried case when it comes to ISP traffic interference.

ZP: There were some unfortunate scenarios facing WinMX users in the past. There was, of course, the shut down of the main WinMX server a couple of years ago. Then there was the appearance of a rivalry for control over the network between Vladd44 and WinMXWorld. Sometime after the rivalry began, I believe there was even a lawsuit over the WinMX patch to get users connected. The last thing I heard was that anti-p2p companies were trying to flood the network, but otherwise, things appeared to have been quiet. First of all, has there been any sort of resolution for the rivalry that took place a while back? What about the anti-p2p companies flooding the networks? Are there measures put in place to avoid the fakes?

T: September 2005 was the start of a sometimes acrimonious struggle. I’m sure in hindsight we can all see the community was pulled too many ways at once with different groups competing to do what they believed was best. At the time it was not possible to reach agreement on many important issues and so for over two years the community was cleaved into two camps, vladd44’s mxpie and winmxworld/wimxgroup. Obviously this could not go on forever and over time dialogue between the major groups has been steadily climbing. Whilst, to be fair, mxpie where good at publicising their preferred host file solution, the technically superior winsock.dll hijack method was seen as a way to move the client forward without resorting to any modification of the WinMX file itself. Improvements included a fake file filtering system and a block-list to deny MediaDefender / Macrovision the ability to disrupt the network. One prototype even featured uPnP support, in short this has proved to be the Holy Grail as far as WinMX is concerned. No other p2p network can boast of such a flawless system.

In a more recent situation (July 2007) KingMacro the dll file creator made a decision similar to WinMX Technologies Kevin Hearn and closed the winmxgroup peer caches (the network connection method). This was unexpected and a quarter of users with the dll solution that relied on the winmxgroup peer caches where not seen to return. The patch was soon modified to point to three separate domains on different continents to reduce the risk of disruption and the vital peer caches are now safely spread amongst many trusted users.

ZP: Past aside, what about the present? How has the network faired in recent times? Networks like BitTorrent have grabbed a large amount of headlines these days between ThePirateBay, statistics on which BitTorrent client is popular, innovations made by MiniNova, etc. Is it a fair assumption that maybe that now WinMX has a slightly lower profile, that maybe it is now flying under the anti-p2p radar a bit more? Since all these issues, what sort of innovations have been put into the development of WInMX in the past year or two?

T: The network has been fairly quiet and stable for the most part in 2008. This is due mainly to increased co-operation amongst long-term users looking to the future and how we can best position ourselves to counter potential problems. We have of course generated a few offshoot projects that are slowly looking to reach fruition including work towards a new client.

We have three programmers working in our community research pool. Sometimes guiding them to work in the same direction is not always simple as you may expect, but we can at least look forward to a future of diversity and growth. The secondary client is proposed to be open source, there are unfortunately technical hurdles involved in open sourcing a primary client that will need to be resolved and some serious thought placed into retaining complete compatibility. After all, many improvements are possible but not all are welcome.

ZP: ZeroPaid get’s a number of interesting questions about untested networks. One of the main concerns is P2P privacy. Is there any way to either encrypt traffic or connect through a proxy? What does WinMX offer in terms of privacy? Is there protocol obfuscation like you see on eMule? If not, will there be in the future?

T: Whilst I don’t think anyone can with a straight face call WinMX “untested” given its long pedigree. I am surprised its not a well know fact that WinMX actually features a proprietary encryption of traffic between all client levels using a code table and seed method and this is from 2001. It is possible to utilise WinMX with a proxy and in fact the client supports sock 4 and 5 proxy methods. The community has many hobby coders who actively research and document its technical features. There is however one remaining problem that only a new client can correct. File transfers. These are, for some strange reason, not encrypted at all. This may have been an active design choice to ensure opennap compatibility was retained but it’s a godsend for an ISP wishing to throttle WinMX traffic. We are currently researching methods to remove this chink in the armour without losing complete compatibility and some great ideas have been placed on the table.

ZP: A number of skeptics might say, ‘well, I have BitTorrent/UseNet/eMule/etc., what does WinMX offer that other networks might not offer?’ Even if the other networks offer something WinMX offer, what would you say that might convince some to give WinMX a try anyway?

T: WinMX offers a collection of attributes that no other network is able. Aside from the obvious ability to obtain files of any type from two separate networks (WPN and OpenNap), it has a second role as a social community with over 1300 chat rooms catering from the weird to the wonderful. Combining these two features with the fake blocking technology has, in this case, created a solid user base that, instead of turning tail from the recording industries disruption efforts, have worked hard to defend the network. Its no joke to say many speak positively of a “WinMX spirit” when discussing a hopeless looking situation.

ZP: Looking into the crystal ball, what sort of things are on the horizon for WinMX and the community? What kind of things are in the works for WinMX at this point?

T: Whilst I’m sure you can appreciate we believe the user base “churn” rate is a little lower than most other networks, our major effort is to deliver primarily help and support for the network. Our second priority is of course to stimulate and support efforts to create a replacement client. I believe this is a natural progression given the demise of and whilst we have been so far “lucky” in meeting each new challenge I also believe its never a good time to rest on ones laurels.

ZeroPaid would like to thank Tigger of WinMXWorld for taking the time to sit down to do this interview.

WinMXWorld official website

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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