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BitTorrent releases Sync beta for direct file sharing between devices

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San Francisco-based BitTorrent released the beta version Wednesday of a new application for its digital distribution software: syncing files across multiple devices. The company says its Sync software will share files faster than cloud-based file synchronization programs (e.g., Dropbox or SugarSync) because it doesn't use the cloud -- it shares files directly from device to device.

Oh, and yes, the file transfers are encrypted to deter them from being monitored or intercepted.

I can imagine how poorly the news will go over among recording artists and Hollywood executives who see BitTorrent as the tool of choice for many online music and movie pirates. It's also the software that delivers the bootlegged files that people find through such sites as The Pirate Bay and Isohunt.

But BitTorrent is just a technology, one that happens to make it easy to send and receive very large files. Yes, there are lots of people using it to violate copyright law. There's also a slowly growing number of artists using it to deliver their work, in whole or in part, to attract a larger audience or promote new material.

Sync works a bit differently from conventional BitTorrent, which breaks files into segments so that people can download them from multiple sources simultaneously. With Sync, files are shared directly from device to device through the Internet (unless they're on the same local network, in which case they don't have to be online). It's similar to the way devices on a home network share files.

Unlike Dropbox, Sync doesn't save a back-up copy in an online locker, so if you're looking for that sort of reassurance, it's the wrong app. On the other hand, it imposes no limits on file size, charges no fees, and places no brakes on transfer speeds. Aside from online congestion, the only limiting factors are the upstream bandwidth of the sending device and the downstream bandwidth of the receiver.

The company released an alpha version of Sync in April, which has been used to share more than 8 petabytes of data. Early users have used Sync to collaborate on projects, create a private distribution network for blogs, and set up a personal data storage system, among other things.

The beta adds mobile file synchronization for Android users (support for Apple products is in the pipeline).

Yes, the encryption will invite groups to use BitTorrent Sync to share files they don't have the right to distribute or copy, safe from the prying eyes of copyright enforcers. But it could just as easily be used by dissidents to avoid government censors and teams of workers to protect trade secrets. Again, it's a technology, not a behavior.

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Follow Jon Healey on Twitter @jcahealey

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