LimeWire for Mac OS X - Kazaa!

A few weeks back, we looked at Neo for Mac OS X, a neoKazaa client. Today we take the OS X version of LimeWire for a testdrive, a client on the familiar Gnutella network.

LimeWire is an open source project, available on many platforms. Its purpose is to participate in the Gnutella peer-to-peer file sharing network. Like many others, it is supported by donations to the project plus a little advertising. And, like many other open source projects, LimeWire is excellent value and money well-spent. Gnutella (on port 6346) and Kazaa (on port 1214) are competing protocols. The latter is a proprietary affair, where Gnutella is open source.

The value of peer-to-peer file sharing requires a critical mass of participants, much the way a grocery superstore requires a critical mass of selection and quantity pricing so that it can support a large customer base. Kazaa Media Desktop being a Windows-only program, the Kazaa network is arguably the domain of Windows users plus a few others. Like much of the best open source, Gnutella has unix roots, and is arguably the domain of unix variants plus a few Windows users. Got that? Just to mix it up a bit, there are several more file sharing protocols out there too, all mutually incompatible, of course. There are at least two Mac-specific clients of this genre out there that are made to work across several of these networks. MorpheusMac (thanks to WT for that tip!) is one I haven't yet looked at myself. iSwipe, which I am currently evaluating, definitely has a Mac feel to it, and jockeys seven networks simultaneously. And you thought Napster had it all!

That said, in the final analysis, you want a tool that consistently finds what you need. It's great to have a choice among good tools. LimeWire so far meets my benchmarks for consistency, download success rate, and reliability. That wasn't so surprising, once I discovered that LimeWire is built for many platforms and enjoys the benefits that other collabware projects do. I can expect a lot from LimeWire.

Downloading is the single definitive measure of file sharing software, though. LimeWire downloading is intuitive enough, and has a very nice status field for messages such as "Waiting in Line, Position 10" as well as the usual ones. You can relaunch any failed download easily. Downloads can take a while. One solution is to ante up the bucks for LimeWire Pro, which almost certainly gets you a higher place in the queue. After all, only one person can download any particular file at a time. You just have to wait your turn.

LimeWire's interface is too detailed in some respects, and consequently suffers from overcrowding. I especially refer to the left panel that contains the search criteria. The more specific categories such as audio and video use specific search criteria too, whereas what you really want to do is merely input a keyword or two and go for it. For that reason, I use the Any Type category for all of my searches. Most of the time I don't have much dross to sift through. And, with all that detail, the authors forgot to add a drop-down panel to the search field that could reveal your previous searches, a feature that exists in other programs of this type. On the other hand, it does complete the field with a previous entry if you type even the first letter. This is very nice. Then it's easy to modify an earlier search. Each search is also tabulated in the right-hand panel in the style of some browsers these days, and hits are shown under each respectively. You have to try this.

The rest of the interface also uses the tab motif. It's beautifully simple, cloaking the clever technologies beneath. Three tabs are for downloads, uploads, and archives. It's so very, well, Mac. In a word, it's intuitive. Discretely sitting at the bottom and available from any page is a built-in player, complete with VCR-style controls. You might very well miss it at first. I discovered it by accident, when the first tune I tested was playing as if the tape was looping. It turned out that I had a copy playing in iTunes, which was intentional, and also in LimeWire, which was (at the time) accidental. What a deal! Two for the price of none.

If there is any one thing that I particularly find attractive about LimeWire, it's the waggish humor that invented its name. I tip my hat to the developers. It was a nice touch. It seems to extend across every aspect of the program, too, in that it just feels comfortable to use at every turn. Alright, that's a bit vague, I admit. So try it for yourself, that's all.

Using peer-to-peer for sharing music files seems to me somewhat akin to how a child plays with a Barbie doll, trying on this outfit, then that one, then another. In large part, it's all a novelty, only to be put aside and forgotten. On the other hand, rediscovering an old and long-forgotten song that once meant something to you can be a nice experience. Even better, it's also likely to trigger memories of other songs and times. If I were a music producer, I'd encourage this phenomenon. It could sell a lot of albums that would otherwise gather dust.

Peer-to-peer file sharing isn't going to be the most profound experience of your life. But it is a phenomenon for a reason. LimeWire for OS X - and probably for any other platform, including unix and Mac OS - is a nice way to experience it. What are you waiting for? Ciao.