Signs of stirring after two years out cold. But digital music has moved on...Putting aside for a moment the scepticism which results from a number of false dawns - let's assume Napster really is going to return before year-end. If the legendary file-sharing service is to wake from the coma-state in which it was left following a particularly nasty run-in with the Recording Industry Association of America, what will the world look like to Napster two-years on? Things have undoubtedly changed since Napster disappeared from our screens in mid-2001. Here is a brief history of the significant changes in the digital music world (click the dates to read the stories): 23.07.01 It didn't take long before the wannabes moved in on Napster's vacated territory. A raft of peer-to-peer services followed in its wake, making the regulatory headache even greater for the RIAA. This was the first indication that removing Napster was unlikely to have the effect desired by the RIAA. 23.08.01 Next came an indication that we should be sceptical about all 'Return of Napster style stories'. An announcement on this day that Napster was to return was the first of many false dawns. 31.08.01 Arguably the biggest hurdle for the RIAA was never going to be closing Napster - it was going to be convincing users that paying for music was the way to go. This story from August 2001 suggested that was still a long way off. Consumers were unlikely to pay for something they were used to getting for free. 30.10.01 Another false dawn. This time we were told Napster would be returning in 2002 to coincide with the launch of the MusicNet and Pressplay offerings from the major labels. Again this didn't happen. 18.01.02 By early 2002 the RIAA had put its Napster victory behind it and was showing no signs of resting on its laurels. Next up was Kazaa. The site closed down following the threat of legal action, and the RIAA must have though it had an easy victory on its hands. However, within three days the service was back up and running - under new, determined owners Sharman Networks - based in Australia. The overseas location meant legal action was never going to be as straight-forward as the toe-to-toe fight on US soil the RIAA had enjoyed against Napster, who was fast becoming a distant memory as Kazaa offered users free music and film. 20.05.02 By May 2002, Napster was back in the headlines. Music giant BMG had broken ranks with the other members of the 'Big Five' - EMI, Sony, Universal and Warner - and was putting together a bid for the defunct file-sharing service. Controversial? Just a bit. However, in the end it wasn't BMG - or its parent Bertelsmann - who took over the assets of Napster. The German media company was beaten to it by Roxio who sealed the deal in November 2002. 18.06.02 Despite high-profile failures, the RIAA proved in June that it still had the power to take out companies who were breaking the law. Audiogalaxy was backed into a corner by the industry association and agreed to pay a "substantial sum" in damages to aggrieved artists. It also agreed to filter its service to block the trade in copyrighted material. As a spokesman for Gnutella told silicon.com: "This is the end for Audiogalaxy." 14.08.02 The RIAA appeared to be fighting a losing battle. According to this story from August 2002 file-sharing was still on the increase even post-Napster. If anything, the RIAA's problem was of its own making. The high-profile Napster case had drawn attention to the fact that there was free music to be found online. Like banning a film, the publicity served as a great advert. 27.09.02 The Music industry continued to make enemies and alienate consumers in September 2002. It's insistence that it should be granted powers to hack networks in search of copyrighted material went down very badly in all quarters - from privacy activists to the mainstream media. Stuck in a hole it appeared the RIAA had no intention of stopping digging. 04.10.02 Further proof, if it were needed that Sean Fanning - founder of Napster - was seen as the good guy all along and the RIAA was the evil empire, came with news that the story of Napster was to be made into a movie, with Fanning the put-upon hero of the piece. 01.11.02 By the last months of 2002 the RIAA was fighting on so many fronts it was difficult to keep track. The effort and the resources it was expending far outweighed the returns it was seeing. Madster - formerly Aimster - was the next company in the Record Industry crosshairs. No stranger to legal action - the file-sharing site had been sued by AOL over the 'Aim' in its name, because of a conflict with AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) - Madster showed no signs of surrender - choosing instead to stand and fight. By December the same year Madster was given an official order to close, but users can still access the site and download the software to this day. 13.01.03 But by far the biggest foe of the RIAA was Kazaa. With millions of users worldwide this was a fast-growing monster which was now out of control. As early as January the music industry was warning Kazaa that it would feel the full-force of its wrath - but service continued uninterrupted. 22.01.03 By the end of January 2003 the image of the RIAA was of an organisation in disarray. It was running around frantically trying to find people to blame who may put up less of a struggle than the file-sharing companies. Next up were the ISPs. The RIAA insisted that Verizon hand over one of its customers who the RIAA claimed was a persistent and prolific file-sharer. This was to prove as unpopular as many of the other actions of the RIAA and one which took six months to resolve in the face of fierce criticism and Verizon's willingness to get legal. By June however the RIAA had the goods on five individuals who all received letters demanding they 'cease and desist' from all illegal file-sharing. 08.05.03 In May came confirmation of what many had suspected all along. Download services are good for music sales - complementing, rather than denting them. By persisting with its fight it appeared the RIAA - which was still loathe to blame high CD prices and poor performers for a slump in sales - was cutting off its nose to spite its face. One regular Kazaa user told silicon.com: "I very rarely download something which I don't either already own or subsequently go out and buy. A few times I've downloaded something which I didn't like - so I didn't buy it - but I think that's fair. I don't listen to the radio, but it's no different to hearing a track on the radio and deciding you want to go out and buy the album." May was also the month that Kazaa announced it had enabled 230 million downloads. Congratulations from the RIAA on this landmark achievement were not forthcoming. 04.06.03 In June 2003 came a particularly ironic twist. Heavy metal band Metallica launched a download service. Having being an aggrieved claimant in the Napster case, the band now performed a remarkable U-turn on digital music. Apparently the band always like the idea of digital music - their complaint with Napster was about the quality, not the lost revenue. They didn't want their fans to be ripped off, downloading sub-standard music. There are two counter arguments here. If Metallica don't want fans ripped off, stop charging £16 per CD. If they don't want fans exposed to sub-standard music... then retire. Which brings us up to the present day. If the above has shown us anything it's that Napster's departure from the digital music scene did not kill off the medium - if anything it made it stronger and more vibrant. It made the job of the RIAA more complex and less effective and it paved the way for free music services - most notably Kazaa - to thrive. But what chances for a legal Napster? In truth consumers will doubtless avoid it in their droves. Even the associations with the once-cool killer app will not be enough to guarantee that a more mature, paid-for service will be welcomed. After all it will be Napster only in name.