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Adobe's newest Flash player to be fully P2P-capable, able to shift bandwidth usage to the users

Adobe's product manager of Flash Media Server recently spilled the beans about his company's efforts to build the upcoming release of Flash player 10.1 to fully utilize a built-in P2P network, specifically meant to alleviate bandwidth costs for media providers. The service would work through the use of a system called Stratus, which Adobe says can be used to facilitate all manner of P2P Flash activities. While it could be used for anything from multiplayer Flash games to Flash-based chat, it's streaming video that really stands to gain from the idea.

At least, it stands to gain from it if you're looking at this from a major video provider's point of view -- like CBS, ABC, NBC, or Hulu.

In other words, sites like Hulu will soon have the option of shifting a large portion of the bandwidth burden over to the people watching the videos, instead of serving up data to each and every user. This would allow the big networks to stream video content and reap the rewards of mass advertising, while only paying a fraction of the bandwidth cost as it currently stands.

Users, on the other hand, would experience dips in their own bandwidth and system performance that until now have been associated with BitTorrent traffic. While many wouldn't see a big problem with that, there are an awful lot of people out there who have caps on their broadband plans. Heavy use of streaming video use -- which is a growing trend as many of us ditch our televisions in lieu of sites like Hulu -- is already causing some to rack up such high bandwidth usage that even the highest monthly caps may start to seem a bit cramped. Adding P2P traffic to that usage isn't going to make it any less painful.

According to Adobe, Flash would not automatically use Stratus to stream content when available, but would ask the user to choose between direct streaming or P2P in a dialogue akin to the option to allow Flash to utilize a computer's webcam and microphone. While that's a pleasant bit of news, it comes with a darker stipulation. Should users choose not to allow Flash to make use of P2P sharing, the site providing the content has the option to offer them any of three options:

• The user may be given the option of streaming the video as they normally would, at the same quality to which they've grown accustomed.

• The user may be given the option to stream a lower quality version of the video at a substantially lower bit-rate (as an incentive to use the P2P function).

• And finally, the content provider can simply refuse to stream the video to users who don't want to use P2P facilitation.

I know we've been hoping that the big media corporations would someday embrace file-sharing and see P2P technology as a valuable tool, as opposed to one used by only vicious car-downloading criminals, but I don't think that anybody had this in mind. Adobe's work here seems pretty straightforward; they're working in ways that P2P sharing can be put to use in everyday situations outside the world of piracy. That's great, it's a good goal to strive for, but the networks and movie studios already want to milk as much cash as possible from video streaming as it is. Does anyone doubt that they won't jump at the opportunity to force P2P -- oh the irony -- down our throats if it means they save money on bandwidth cost?

Tags: adobe, bandwidth capping, bandwidth limiting, bandwidth usage, BandwidthCapping, BandwidthLimiting, BandwidthUsage, file sharing, FileSharing, flash, p2p, streaming video, StreamingVideo