09/05/2001 In a scene from a thousand Japanese anime death scenes, the monster robot is near to death. No longer smashing cities beneath its giant metal feet, it crouches on all fours amid the ruined city, lifting its robot fist into the rain-lashed sky and unleashing one final bellow of defiance before its final collapse. Yes, Napster has certainly seen better days. Slashed by a thousand filters, the mutant giant that once threatened empires is looking as up-to-date as a microscooter. And where are the clones? I poke around some of the usual suspects: servers are clogged, the software is sluggish and the few tracks I try to find are nowhere to be seen. I ask around, cautiously bringing up the subject with those lowlife thieving scum of my acquaintance who I know to have sampled the illicit delights of peer-to-peer file sharing. They seem curiously unmoved -- but when I check their hard disks, I see they've downloaded more gigabytes over the past month than they can listen to all year. Like sleek Burmese pythons, they settle down for a long snooze while digesting the enormous musical pig that distends their virtual bellies. And those bellies -- if you'll excuse my metaphors getting mixed -- is where the next Napster will grow. The moment a decent serverless peer-to-peer piece of software turns up, it'll find a rich environment with millions of files ready to move. Napster's already created that, and nobody's going to be deleting anything the while. The monster robot will be back.