Does Zain have an answer to software priacy?

Akhtar Zaidi has an ambition: to create a technology workshop that could be floated on the NASDAQ. His Zain Group's first invention, 'Trazer', could prove to be the answer to software piracy.

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By  David Ingham Published  December 11, 2000

Akhtar Zaidi has an ambition: to create a technology workshop that could be floated on the NASDAQ. His Zain Group's first invention, 'Trazer', could prove to be the answer to software piracy.

Could a startup company with a presence in the United Arab Emirates have invented the answer to software piracy? Akhtar Zaidi and Hany Eskander, CEO and chief technology officer respectively of Zain Group, think they have.

Under what is a slightly puzzling company structure, ZainIT.com, a US company in Delaware has developed the technology, called Trazer. ZainSoft.com is incubating the technology here in the Middle East and declares that it wants to be the first company based in Dubai Internet City to go public on NASDAQ.

Regardless of who owns or operates what, Trazer was designed to deal with two problems particular to computer software. One is the copying of software to computers without paying for it first — in other words, piracy.

The other is the flaws in the pay-as-you-use application service provider (ASP) model, which was designed to enable businesses to ‘rent’ software over an Internet connection.

“What I can say is that the traditional ASP model is dead,” says Akhtar Zaidi.

“There are too many complications, the infrastructure and bandwidth ask more questions than they answer; there is no security of data, or at the least, a perception that there is no security and it’s expensive. Ask yourself too, whether any serious organisation is going to risk dismantling their IT departments and infrastructure. We needed an alternative to the ASP model - and our Trazer is the answer.”

So how does it work? Buy a piece of software that supports Trazer and a tiny chunk of computer code is buried on your PC when you install the software. Before you can start using the software, you have to go and register online, a process that activates a ‘tracker.’

This tracker records the usage of your software, reporting this back to the manufacturer when the user connects to the Internet. The user can then be charged by the software manufacturer for his usage of the software.

The technology allows the user to pay as he goes (what the ASP model aims to achieve) and protects the software from piracy because the user has to activate the Trazer tracker to use it. In theory you will be able to go and pick up Microsoft Office off-the-shelf, and simply pay for it as you use it. Hany Eskander insists that it is near impossible for a user to hack Trazer and tamper with his usage record.

The technology sounds great, but fails to offer the great theoretical benefit of the ASP model. That is that servers and software are maintained offsite by an expert third party, taking an unwanted overhead off businesses.

End users require relatively ‘thin’ clients on their desks that need little, if no, support or upgrading. As software versions evolve, any upgrades or maintenance take place server side, removing the worry of downtime.

Zaidi argues, however, that this concept is still completely theoretical. The ASP model, he says, demands too much computer memory and the upfront investment costs for providers of ASP services are just too high to make it worthwhile.

The ZainSoft model can be tested today. Simply log on to zainsoft.com to try out its ‘TextTalk’ for rental at US$ 0.0025 cents per minute. To get up and running, you have to register to install the anti-piracy system and Trazer elements.

Then you download a bunch of software that takes about five minutes. Once installed, any number of Traxer-enabled applications can be loaded onto your machine. TextTalk itself is a text to speech word processor.

In case, you haven’t already guessed, Zain’s invention requires the co-operation of the software manufacturers. They could choose to pay Zain Group a license for embedding the technology in their software, or one of them could choose to wade in and buy it outright. On the question of buying it outright, Arabian Business.com has a good idea of what Zaidi has in mind. The price will have to be right, of course.

Going forward, Zaidi insists that Trazer is just the start for Zain Group. The way he describes the company, he clearly envisages it as an ideas and technology workshop. Eskander plays the role of technical whiz whilst Zaidi has the business head that turns technology into money.

More great ideas, he insists, are already in the pipeline. Watch this space.

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