By Вen Li
Now that the courts have neutered Napster, approximately 100,000 song files specified by the recording industry will be blocked. Users have two choices: work around the filters by intentionally misspelling song titles, or abandon Napster for other Internet file-sharing services.
Napster’s original appeal–free instant access to thousands of near-CD-quality songs–is largely lost because of the filters. Any potential replacement must do what Napster did and do it better to beat out the current competitors and those in the works. It must also gain the support of users who ultimately supply the files. With that in mind, consider some file-sharing alternatives: AudioGalaxy Satellite, Gnutella, Hotline and iMesh.
In what can best be described as a Frankenservice, AG Satellite relies (poorly) on a conventional web interface to search for and categorize songs, while the AG Satellite program itself downloads them. The service tries to get files from the closest computer but its first choice is often slower than others. Error messages provide useless feedback to the user and the grafted-on appearance of the interface provide for an annoying experience. The only saving grace for AG Satellite is the large number of hits returned.
Gnutella sets itself apart from other services like Napster, AG Satellite and iMesh which all rely on a group of centralized servers to search for files. Gnutella, actually a family of clients which use the same "fully-distributed information-sharing technology," depends only on other Gnutella users. Therefore it does not have a central point of control or failure like other services. Unfortunately, its high degree of reliance on the goodwill of users allows many to download files without contributing, resulting in false hits. Bear Share, a popular Gnutella client for Windows, has the ability to continuously perform multiple searches which makes up for this to some extent but this wastes bandwidth. Users can even make their own Gnutella client from freely available source code.
The Hotline client/server system behaves like a traditional pre-Internet bulletin board system where users (clients) connect to particular computers (servers) on the Internet to exchange files, post messages and chat with other users. As such, there is no intuitively easy way to search many computers at once and you can only find files on other computer systems if you already knew those systems existed. Additionally, the need to install both the server software to allows others access to your files and client software to allow you to access others’ files puts Hotline at a disadvantage as a peer to peer file-sharing system. The interface with its gross ad window is crappy, too. To its credit, online Hotline search engines exist that do allow you to search multiple servers simultaneously.
The designers of iMesh must have been fans of Picasso. A cluttered and loud interface masks iMesh’s rich feature set and strong search capabilities. In addition to its file sharing capabilities, the integrated Media Manager plays music files and video in a 0.5" by 0.5" window. Integrated instant-messaging in an ICQ-esque manner is a welcome, although unnecessary addition to this well-rounded but centralized service. Users are lacking, however. iMesh reports users in the tens of thousands compared to Gnutella and Napster’s millions, although iMesh is the best of the bunch.