September 6, 2002

Review: LimeWire Pro is fast, fun stuff for file traders

- by Tina Gasperson -
LimeWire is a java-based Gnutella client that is incredibly popular in the wake
of the demise of Napster. In the past week
there were over 350,000 downloads of the 2.5.5 free-as-in-beer release for
Linux from Download.com. After experiencing some slow response times and
difficulties in connecting with the free version, I decided to kick down $9.95
for the Pro version.

Gnutella is the P2P protocol that big music and big software haven't been able
to figure out how to bust. The latest attempt at tomfoolery has been the request
to allow RIAA and cohorts free reign to hack our computers if they suspect we
have unauthorized possession of copyrighted material. Napster was easier to
bring down because the files resided on a central server belonging to Napster.
Nobody "owns" Gnutella because it is simply a protocol whereby hundreds of
thousands of computers running software like Limewire create an on-the-fly
network, passing along the digital version of the message: "I'm looking for a recipe for blueberry
pie." Or whatever.

In the earlier days of Gnutella, it was easier to get files because, although
there were fewer users, the ones who showed up in the search were on a clear
connection. Then, right after Napster died, there was a huge jump in the number
of file. For a few months, it was really difficult to get a whole lot of
meaningful results, especially at certain times of the day. But as the protocol
matured (and perhaps the user base?) it settled down into a pretty good balance
between popularity and usefulness.

I installed LimeWire Pro on an IBM Thinkpad T20 with SuSE 7.3 Personal edition.
If you're going to put LimeWire on SuSE, you'll do well to uninstall the version
of Java that comes with it, then download and install the latest Sun JRE before
you install LimeWire. Otherwise it won't work. I already knew this from previous
experience, but didn't heed my own advice and had to backtrack. LimeWire Pro
installs without a hitch on Mandrake 8.1, though, the distribution I had on the
T20 a few days ago.

When you pay online for the software, you get your own download page where you
can pull down a version for Linux, Windows or Macintosh. You get access to the
page for six months after the date of purchase, though the LimeWire license
states that you're only allowed one copy of the software on one computer at a
time, and a backup copy. On an interesting side note, the LimeWire license also
states that "IS NOT INTENDED FOR USE IN THE OPERATION OF NUCLEAR FACILITIES,
AIRCRAFT NAVIGATION OR COMMUNICATION SYSTEMS, AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL MACHINES OR
OTHER SYSTEMS OR DEVICES IN WHICH CASE THE FAILURE OF THE LimeWire software
COULD LEAD TO DEATH, PERSONAL INJURY, OR SEVERE PHYSICAL OR ENVIRONMENTAL
DAMAGE." Okay, I guess all you air traffic controllers better stop trading files
on company time.

If you're interested, there are some other restrictions in the LimeWire license
worth noting: "(i) to infringe the intellectual property rights of others in any
way (ii) 'stalk' or otherwise harass another; (iii) collect or store personal
data about other users; (iv) collect or distribute child pornography or other
obscene or illegal material; or (v) promote or provide instructional
information about illegal activities, promote physical harm or injury against
any group or individual, or promote any act of cruelty to animals (this may
include, but is not limited to, providing instructions on how to assemble
bombs, grenades and other weapons)."

Anyway, after LimeWire was installed properly, I found the interface to be
clean and easy to use -- better than the free version. It was faster, too. Of
course, there were no flickering animated ad banners to contend with -- which
honestly doesn't make all that much difference to me -- but for only $9.95
I might as well pay to get rid of them, especially if it will help feed a hungry programmer or two.

A nice feature that is back in this latest version after a conspicuous absence:
the ability to browse a host and see all the files available on an individual
computer. I don't know how practical it is to have this, but the researcher in
me likes to contrast and compare and make mental notes. For instance, most hosts
I browsed during a recent unscientific study had more than three hundred files
to share. Those with Britney Spears MP3s were more likely to also have porn
files. Those with at least one software file available, usually had only
software files available, and those with at least one music file available,
usually had only music files available.

Also nice: the ability to simultaneously download a file from several hosts at
once, making the download quicker. This is called "swarming." Other features: a
built-in MP3 player; the ability to filter out certain hosts or keywords or file
types; the ability to limit a user's downloads; chatting with those you're
downloading from; filtering out files on hosts with low connection speeds or
behind a firewall.

I've used just about all the Gnutella clients for Linux and they all have their
good and bad qualities. For days when I just want to use the command line, gnut
works just fine. But for days when I want the cushiness of a fancy GUI, LimeWire
is the best. LimeWire Pro is a bargain and really does work better than the free
version. I recommend you buy it.

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